The African saying ‘Ubuntu’ never resonated with me. I knew the definition for years: “I am what I am because of who we all are.” But it wasn’t until recently that I came to realise how much truth the saying holds.
We commonly ask one another to ‘tell me more about yourself’ or even ponder it ourselves: ‘who am I?’ If we are all born with certain traits, quirks, mannerisms, weaknesses and strengths, are we aware of them from the beginning or do we only realise these things when provoked by other people?
The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test gives an explanation of who you are by defining how you are energized, take in information, make decisions, and organize your world. These short codes (INFJ or ESTP) give an outline of how our brains processes the world around us.
If we can so easily be defined by a 10-minute test, why is it that we keep on learning about ourselves as we grow older? Aren’t we who we are and that’s it?
Going back to ubuntu (I am what I am because of who we all are), this can sound a bit ‘new age,’ but take a minute to think about it. I am angry, because you did something that activates an emotion within me or I am patient because I‘ve learnt that people do things differently or I need time alone to process things because I’ve learnt that spending too much time with people drains me.
Do you see the connection? I learn who I am by spending time with people. I need people to know who I am; I need people around me so that I can grow; I need people so that I can identify my strengths and weaknesses.
To be able to answer, ‘who am I?’ I need to rub shoulders with people from different cultures, backgrounds and with different interests. Here is one guarantee in life: No matter how weird people are, you will always grow in who you are, and who you are supposed to be, when you spend time with new people.
Yes, there are people I do not enjoy the company of, but yet I need to meet them so that I can know I don’t like people who are A, B, or C. We need opposites in life to know what we are opposite of.
One way to learn about our strengths is through words of affirmation from others. I think complimenting one another is healthy, but often a compliment focuses on what someone does and not on who they are. In the Bible, we learn that we should encourage one another as encouragement boosts and reassures who someone is – it lifts them up. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV) says “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
When I encourage someone, I am highlighting something beautiful, something different and positive about them. Bringing to light a strength that might have been hidden, I am saying “I can see this talent, skill, or characteristic that God has given you, and I want you to know that it shows.” Through encouragement we help each other to grow in our Christian character and to find out who we are.
This is how I build my definition of ‘me.’ But how many times have you just shrugged off a compliment or an encouragement, denying the validity of it? I have witnessed so many people not claiming or owning up to words of affirmation, dismissing the encouragement because they fear they will become proud. Or maybe it’s that they do not believe what was said, so they shrug it off as untrue.
It is easier to take a compliment when you believe it’s true, than to accept a compliment you don’t believe in. Why do we brush off compliments that make us feel uncomfortable? If I receive a compliment that makes me uneasy, it’s a great opportunity to examine why I don’t believe in what was said – why do I think I’m not beautiful or why am I uncomfortable when someone compliments my relationship with God?
God created people so that we can be in relationship with each other; so that we can see Him in others, tell them about what we see, affirm them, edify them, and thus build and strengthen the body of Christ, the church.
I am still finding myself. I find myself in others when they see something that awakens a part of me. I find myself when someone provokes an uncomfortable feeling within me. It is all in me – some parts are just sleeping and will only be awakened when I care deeply or am disappointed or see injustice.
The wrongs and rights of others help us find our full selves. We find out more about ourselves when people challenge us, question our methods and reasoning, or provoke our emotions.
We need to learn that others can help us dig deeper and explore the hidden parts of ourselves.
We need people. God created relationships. He created people for us, to complete us, to make us fully realise who we are. I am who I am because of who we all are: it is through others that we learn who we are.
reprinted with permission