When I was a kid, my cousins and I went to our grandparents’ house almost every day after school. My granny was our bus driver so she would drop us off and continue on with the rest of her route. Most days, rain or shine, we met my grandfather sitting on the back porch. He would quiz us on what we had learned at school that day, but not with actual questions from our actual curriculum. He would make us spell words like Mississippi or pneumonia. He would ask random questions about science or world geography. Almost daily, though, he would ask us this question: Which is more important- character or conduct? My cousins and I would think really hard, trying to remember what we had said the day before and whether he had praised us for getting it right or teased us for getting it wrong. Almost daily, we got it wrong. More than poor memory (and after- school hunger pangs) was the reason for our error. Our youth prevented us from genuinely thinking about and understanding what he was asking and, more importantly, trying to teach us.
As I grew up, his question and definition of those words began to make more sense to me. As I began navigating a more adult space of trying to answer the question “Who am I” or better still “Who do I want to be”, I began to think about granddaddy’s words more seriously. I started to ask myself his question: Which is more important- my character or my conduct? From the beginning, my grandfather explained to us that character is who you are; conduct is what you do. Strong character leads to good conduct. Grounded, principled conduct builds deep character. They are BOTH essential to knowing yourself and becoming who you want to be.
I do believe our identities are fluid, an ongoing process of formation, transformation and reformation. Answering the question “Who am I” at12 years old is bound to have been different than me answering it today. I am constantly framing and reframing who I am- even at my core in some ways. My experiences broaden. My understanding evolves. I gain new or different perspectives. My paradigms shift. I recognize some part of my life with which I am dissatisfied so I go to work. I work on changing my habits. Habits form my character. My character largely drives my choices. My choices power my life, dictate my experiences and help to define “who I am.”
Most of the time, when meeting someone new, we ask ‘what do you do?’ as a way of trying to find out who someone is. Typically, the response includes one’s profession or roles one holds in life. Yes, these are a PART of who we are, but they really do not define us. Your conduct, what you do, gives clues as to who you are, your character.
So who am I?
I am a woman who is the sum total of my thoughts, my experiences, my environment. Parts of the fabric of who I am rests with whom I have loved and been loved by, choices I have made, fears I have overcome or succumbed to, my hopes and dreams. I have loved and been loved by people who have made me a better woman. I have made choices that have propelled me forward and others that have stopped me in my tracks. I am a child of God and as such I am ever growing, ever changing. I am a hopeful dreamer who loves helping others. I am a leader and a follower. I am a woman who does too much. I am one who forgets the bad and remembers the good easily. I am wife and mommy, a teacher and a friend. I am a granddaughter and a daughter who should call home way more often than I do. I am a sister, in blood and in Christ. I am an avid reader and a wannabe writer. I am always moving forward, but sometimes I find myself moving back. I am an extrovert embracing a few emerging introvert-ish needs. I am a lover of all things academic. I am a big talker learning to enjoy and to seek quiet. I am a woman learning to be comfortable in my own skin. I am sometimes Ernie but, most times, I am Andrea.
I am who I am, but that’s not all that I will be as long as I breathe.
So who are you?