Tuesday, April 12, 2016


     I must have approached this question of “Who am I?” several hundred times since I started writing this blog based on the three simple questions. Last night was the first time I remember a response - “This is who you are!” - approaching me. And, I realized there are actually only very, very few things which I am. One is the Texas twang I grew up with.
     Last night my wife and I were seated at two-top table in a “fine dining” restaurant north of Middlebury, Vermont. A table of six people entered and sat at the opposite end of the empty dining room. They began talking amongst themselves, not loudly, but enough so they were audible.
     I suddenly became aware that a few among them were speaking in a mild, lilting Texas twang. I became aware, “That is who I am!” or at least, that is a part of who I am. I smiled and commented to my wife because a Texas twang is so unusual here in Vermont. It reminded me of the phrase, “You can take the Texan out of Texas, but you can’t take the Texas out of the Texan.” This must be true for everyone from everywhere in the world. You can take the New Yorker out of the Bronx, or Brooklyn, or Flatbush, but can you take the “New York” out of them? No. My friend Bemis was born and raised a “Southie” but has not lived in South Boston for many years, but that upbringing is still in him, is a defining part of him to which he can refer in an instant.
     Our language is one of those essential pieces of the answer to that question “Who am I?” An accent, dialect, word choice, sentence construction is unique and generally personal having to do with where and how one is raised and our unique genius or “higher self”, the one who learns “how to speak” takes that in and can recognize it forever. We have our own unique, personal speech pattern, but we can recognize that pattern across a room and scan for the “kindred” spirit to which we are attracted as I am sure any refugee from one part of Syria, or from anywhere else, can recognize someone else from their home. You can’t be a refugee from your native tongue.
     Generally, though language is from a specific place in the world and identifies a group of people who live there in that language. Each individual’s Angel, the higher self, is a member of that group and learns to speak, but the language is totally idiosyncratic. My Texas Twang is shared, otherwise I wouldn’t be attracted to the stranger across the room. It is the Arch-Angels, the heavenly beings who care for groups of people. These groups create their own slang, dialect or patois; uniforms, tattoos, ways of being. I’ve often wondered about the Arch-angelic beings of the NFL or Hockey teams, MLB – proud, individualistic scrappers.

The Texas Twang was like a magnet. It drew my attention. “The Texas” in me was attracted to “The Texas” in that other person. It was automatic. I pivoted and looked.  Mine was a sympathetic response. But, what if it was an antipathetic response, negative.
     We have biases. What if I thought people that talk with a southern drawl, or Texas twang are stupid, uneducated, slow witted. Or the French Canadian accent, which we may hear occasionally in Vermont, meant something negative? Or, a mid-Eastern accent was to be feared? Or, if I was a black kid and watched a white cop cruise by and stare at me? Or I was a white cop who had been trained to watch hand gestures?
     We have in-built, automatic “selves” that are attracted or repulsed by in-built ways of being. S1 is biased by, attitudes, experiences. As the popular song goes, “S1 can’t help it, that’s the way I am!” S1 presumes that that this “magnetism” which causes us to pivot is a forever thing. We are raised a particular way, we are trained a particular way and, like a magnet, we meet a person or situation and our automatic behavior kicks in, “click-bang.” We don’t need gun control so much as S1 control.

Freedom. Creativity. S2 strengthening. That’s what I want for us. In addition to the “automatic self” there is another self within us. Call the “automatic self” S1. The non-automatic self, call that self S2. So, let’s ask your automatic self to answer the following questions:
What is 17 X 24 ? Your automatic self stops, gets confused and calls on S2 for help S2 grabs a piece of paper and a pencil and does the laborious steps for multiplication.
Or, how about the following: you have a compass which always points toward magnetic north (just like your S1 always reacts in the same way) – so, how do you travel west if your S1 points north automatically? Hmmm? How do you sail your little dingy into the wind? Or, do you curse you luck and drop anchor until S1 shifts?
     S2 slows down S1. You have to practice taking a step back and watching S1 do its thing. Not reacting. Wait a moment. The old saying was, “If angry, count to 10.” Give a head fake before going up for the shot. There are lots of examples from many places.  Mostly, we think they don’t apply to us: “We can’t help it... “ which is not exactly true.
     “Who am I?” I am someone who has a S1 and a S2. I have wind in my sail. I have magnetic north. I live in a community of good and bad people and I probably can’t tell one from the other, really.
I can develop the capacity to use the compass for orienting myself and using the automatic way of being within myself as a signal, maybe even a strong signal, but I can live in the world of cause, not automatic effect. I can take my finger off the trigger of reaction. “The Texan” is an indicator that someone across the room is speaking with a Texas twang. Where is the genuine threat in gang symbols, or a teenager wearing a hoodie, a girl in a hijab? In me. My fear. Slow down. Call for S2.
Can you take “the Texas” out of the S1 Texan? Nope. But you can choose to use S1 as a compass for S2 and go “west, young man, go west”. (Tip o’ the hat to Horace Greeley for the “go west, young man” phrase – but, really, did the phrase “young man” cause a “he’s sexist” reaction from your S1?)

© Copyright 2016 Jean W. Yeager
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