Oh yes it is . . .
"That's not who I am."
Perhaps you’ve heard or read those words in recent days or weeks. People caught by the seemingly all-seeing eyes of omnipresent cellphone videos find their embarrassing actions immortalized literally forever on social media. In their shame and humiliation, many—if not most--resort to the time-honored phrase referenced above: “That’s not who I am.”
The problem with that statement is that it’s not true. It may not be all they are, but such troubling statements are at least part of who they are. It may not be who they want to be, or who they aspire to be, or who they hope to be, but it’s at least part of who they are.
Jesus said many comforting things, but he also said some discomforting things. He spoke about this in striking terms. “What you say flows from what is in your heart.” (Luke 6:45) “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36, 37)
I don’t want to be accountable for my “careless words.” I want to be judged only by my “careful” words, words I have had a chance to soften, shade, obfuscate, wordsmith, etc. I want to be held accountable for words my lawyer has approved, my speechwriter, my spouse. Of course. We all do. But, as Jesus said, there is a problem with that.
Such carefully parsed words do not flow from what’s really in our hearts, for it is out of the “overflow of the heart” that the mouth speaks (another possible translation of Luke 6:45). What is truly in our hearts comes out when we are spontaneously provoked.
The reason we need to acknowledge this truth is that until we face these troubling truths, we will be living a lie. The ancient Delphic maxim “Know Thyself” is a necessary prerequisite to changing thyself. It is implicit in the gentle but jarring wisdom of the Serenity Prayer for I cannot know what needs to be changed or what I cannot change until I know myself.
Now, it would be impolite at least and provocative at most to actually confront someone who just tried to walk back some unfortunate utterance by disclaiming “That’s not who I am” by pointing out that it actually is who they are… you saw them do it. So, just bite your tongue, but also watch out. Watch out because both their verbal vomit and their attempts to disown it tell you something about them—their hidden life and their lack of awareness of it.
More importantly, know thyself. If you—perhaps I should say “when you,” because we all do it—when you commit a verbal faux pas, don’t try to dodge responsibility by blaming some invisible person. Own it. Admit it and feel the shame of it. Then ask for forgiveness. “I was wrong to say—or do—that. I am trying to be better. I hope you will forgive me.”
Much harder to do, but it yields better, less bitter, fruit.