Waseca County Pioneer 111 W. Elm Ave.

Waseca, MN (507) 837-6767


What, exactly, defines who we are?

One does not normally expect deep philosophical observations from superhero movies–which is just as well, because one does not normally find them there.  But after one particular Batman movie I felt compelled to make a small banner: “It is what we do that defines who we are.”
The banner has been on display for a decade or more, yet it remains meaningful.
As someone who has just retired from nearly three decades as a teacher–an English teacher even–I have been giving recent consideration to the question of who I am.
 How we look? That literally changes with the strength and direction of the wind. Heck, if we’re talking about my hair, it doesn’t need a wind to look windblown. And as for what we’re wearing, well, fashion changes mighty quickly, doesn’t it?
What we drive? That, too, is open to interpretation. What some might see as an elegant luxury vehicle, others may see as careless disregard for the planet.
But what we do, that seems like genuine commitment. We do not give our time and energy to organizations or projects that we don’t value. 
All right, good. Getting to work on time, consistently, and meeting the expectations there. We do that because it’s fundamental to our lives and lifestyle. I hope most of us are working somewhere where the demands we must meet are–at the very least–acceptable. Fulfilling, of course, would be better. But think for a minute of the difference in the message if we hear “He works at a factory” as compared to “He’s a park ranger.” At least in other people’s minds, “what we do” at work says a great deal about “who we are.”
But I think perhaps the most important part of “what we do” is how we interact with others. Do we recognize them as fellow travelers on a long and complicated path? Are we willing to set aside our preconceptions and genuinely listen to their stories? If we have reached a conclusion about them or their behaviors, are we willing to reconsider every now and then?
Those same standards apply to how we view ourselves. I, for example, have a habit of calling myself “stupid” when I make a mistake or overlook a detail. I have been known to mutter similar insults to drivers ahead of me who put on their brakes suddenly or take a turn without signaling.  A few moments later, when I see the (often obvious) reason for the seemingly inexplicable behavior, I often apologize. Fortunately, only my windshield typically knows of this flighty behavior.
And okay, now, but what does it say about my character that I like to imitate sounds?  People tend to be impressed with the quality of my rooster crow.  When I was a child, our farm’s rooster thought a great deal of himself, and he liked to announce that to the world by crowing.  Whatever my rationale, I worked on imitating him.  Eventually, my crows became convincing enough that the rooster would follow the sound, find me, and try to initiate a fight.  I can vividly remember my barefoot, elementary school self, raising my feet to meet his.
Just so you know, while the rooster crow gets the most attention, I can demonstrate the difference between the calls of a goat and a sheep; I can do a reasonably good loon and mourning dove, along with some convincing bird calls, and can represent dogs in every size from chihuahua to mastiff. 
Oh, and roller coasters. I love those. I howl in ecstasy while racing downhill at speeds which would be very dangerous under other circumstances.  It’s a definition of delight for me when the lines at the amusement park are so short I can get off the ride, then go get right back in line.
Okay, so if you’re still with me here at the end of all this, perhaps you’re reaching the same conclusion I am. Yes, what we do may define “who we are,” but what we’re doing depends on the moment we’re observed. We’re back at the “long and complicated path” we all share. I like to think we’re all simply doing our best, working to make strong connections in some cases, choosing to let go of them in others. Along the way, I know I work to be kind (except, possibly, to my windshield) and to leave situations slightly better than the way I found them. 
I make mistakes, of course. I try to make up for those…or find a way to ensure no one discovers them. What can I say? I’m human.


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