Who are we? is one of the greatest questions we can ask. Many people ask this question, and when they do, they ask this question in many different ways, in so far as the assumptions about what this question means, and what the answer would like like.
We can think about being in relation to a play. When a play is acted, the Being, the existence of the play is less in the script, a physical aspect of the play that can be grasped easily, and more in the acting, the happening, the event of the play. In this respect, the happening of the play is where it discloses itself to us, and we experience the play.
But we do not experience the whole play, we only experience one performance, and in this manner, if the essence of the play is in its performance, its self-manifestation, then we can say that the being of the play is not limited, it is only ever expanding with ever more performances. Performances, David Linge puts it in his introduction to Gadamer’s Philosophical Hermeneutics, an “inexhaustible reservoir of possibilities of meaning”.
Can this way of contemplating the meaning of a play help us to answer the question of our own being and what this question even means?
We can change the question of in what way can being be understood to one of in what way understanding is being. Being therefore changes from being thought of as a thing – who are we – to one where we understand being as a thing which does not itself appear.
These questions are deep since if we are to move away from the prison of purely mechanistic thinking, we have to shift our consciousness into a more fluid and dynamic way of seeing, which understands concepts not as objects but as events and happenings.
It’s amazing how some people seem to consciously consider themselves to be whole plays. They act, they hide their true selves in the characters they wish others to see themselves as, and they present narratives, which sometimes appear to veer dangerously far from the path of generally accepted truth of past events.
So maybe if we are not authentic, our lives are lived as subjects in a world of objects. But when we are authentic, we experience flow in our lives, we see ourselves less as subjects separated from objects, but are able to achieve a sense and experience of being which is a continual unfolding of meaning.
Our own being is disclosed in our performances. If we understand ourselves when we un-conceal ourselves, if we are who we are, then when we consciously chose to conceal ourselves, the only person who suffers is ourselves, since we have lost the opportunity to experience a deepening of our own being.
Authenticity. It’s powerful stuff.