I wonder how much more interesting conversations might be if we stopped asking someone we met for the first time, “What do you do?” and inquired instead, “Who are you?”
There’s a world of difference between the two, of course. The first is more about titles and roles, while the second gets to the question of identity.
There are many reasons it’s easier to stick with the what rather than the who. As the inquirer, it keeps you safely on the surface. And as the responder, well, frankly there are probably a lot of us who don’t really know who we are.
Having interviewed thousands of people through the years, I’ve discovered that titles don’t make a person, they just sometimes make a person a bit of a jerk. Some people wear their honorific like kids playing dress-up in their parents’ over-sized clothes; they can’t quite carry it off, but it gives them a swagger. And then there are people with no recognized status that have a quiet authority that can’t be ignored.
There’s a difference between pose and poise. It’s a centered “I.”
Dear Carl comes to mind. I got to know him some when he and his wife joined our church a few years ago. He had kind eyes, a gentle manner, and transparent love for Jesus, but he never pushed himself forward or made a noise about himself.
His premature death saddened me, but his funeral shocked me. Our church was almost filled—mostly with people from his past that I’d never met before. They came to honor and celebrate him. Several spoke movingly about the eternal impact quiet Carl, as I had thought of him, had had on them.
He hadn’t needed anyone to know about it. He hadn’t needed a title to do it. He’d just been Carl, who loved Jesus, and loved others in turn.
Carl, as he would have wanted, makes me think of Jesus. Someone peeking through the window at the Last Supper might have misidentified the creator of all that exists as the household servant, towel and washing bowl in hand.
In John 13 we read that “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God,” Jesus chose to act as a servant and wash his disciples’ feet. Secure in who he was, what was his, where he came from and where he was going―centered and anchored in his identity, the ultimate “I”—the title or role others may attribute did not matter.