“She’s the smart one.”
That was the last thing I expected to hear upon entering a bar. But, man, did it feel great.
It was Halloween and I was dressed like Velma from Scooby Doo, while friends were Daphne, Fred, Shaggy, and Scooby. When we arrived anywhere, it would gradually dawn on spectators who we were one character at a time. At one point, a young lady dressed like a jar of peanut butter explained to her jelly-dressed friend: “the dog, the stoner, the smart one…”
For one sugar-filled night, people knew who we were. Even when they asked “Who are you?” it was so simple to answer “Velma!” and so rewarding to see their eyes light up in recognition.
But, what about the day after Halloween? We go back to anonymity. We go back to fumbling with words and behaviors, resumes and business cards, rather than relying on costumes to convey who we are. When people ask the “Who are you?” question it’s not-so-simple to answer “well, this and this and sometimes that” and definitely not-so-rewarding to see their eyes cross in confusion.
So, how do we deal with this?
I’ve been slowly learning to reject the notion that I am a character and embrace the generous reality that I have character.
Characters (at least the simple, costumed kind typical of Halloween) have limited identifiers, e.g. “the smart one.” And it doesn’t take much for others to recognize those identifiers, as the peanut butter jar lady at the bar demonstrated.
As living, breathing humans who have character, though, we get to have multiple identifiers that change over the course of life and even over the course of a day. And we get to develop relationships in order for others to recognize those identifiers.
I am not Velma. Rather, as Descartes put it, “I am a thinking thing, that is, a being who doubts, affirms, denies, knows a few things, and is ignorant of many things.”
None of us are just “the smart one” – and we have to remember that, lest we get prideful when we act intelligently or get discouraged when we act unintelligently.
And none of us are just “the dumb one” – and we have to remember that, lest we limit ourselves unnecessarily.
So, let’s try this again.
“Who are you?”
It’s not Halloween anymore. Your answer can be short or long, clear or complex. You’re not just a character. You have character.