Quote for Thought: Who are we?


What I saw wasn’t a ghost. It was simply – myself. I can never forget how terrified I was that night, and whenever I remember it, this thought always springs to my mind: that the most frightening thing in the world is our own self.

Haruki Murakami, “The Mirror”

(This month’s topic seems to be horror. And I’ve decided to embrace it.)

Do we really fear ourselves? Why would we? Well, people question themselves all the time. Sometimes, we are quick to say: I’d never do that. But then, can we really be sure?

I discussed this with a friend once, and we concluded that you can never be entirely sure of what you are and aren’t capable of. Your personality is created through the process of socialization, upbringing, adapting to the environment. If you were born elsewhere, would you be someone completely different? Probably. Even with the same genes, you would have different life experiences which would shape your identity in another way. Who are we then? It’s hard to say.

But let’s not go that far. Let’s stay in our own skin. Can you say for certain how you would react in an unthinkable situation, how you would react to complete shock? For example, people are said to do almost impossible things when their life is in danger. They suddenly possess survival skills they didn’t even know they had. If starving, they are capable of eating things they would find disgusting, of running faster then ever, and all different thing from The Saw (maybe not the best example, but bare with me). They are also capable of unthinkable cruelty – killing, torture, and then there are the cases when they ate each other (The Raft of the Medusa); but they can also show extreme bravery and risk their own lives to save others. What you are capable of doing can be altered by the circumstances you’re in, and those circumstances cannot always be predicted. This makes us wonder – would I show my best or my worst?

We also fear the possibility that we might lose our humanity. Dehumanisation seems to be a frequent topic in literature and films as most monsters are actually dehumanised people. We often call the people who did awful crimes “monsters”, but the fact is they are still people. What make people do evil? This question may never be answered.

Théodore Géricault: “The Raft of Medusa” (“Le Radeau de la Méduse”) – picture taken from Wikipedia