Who Do We Think We Are?
Learning to know ourselves better
by Helen Levesley (revised, originally published in 2008)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider whether we really know who we are.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a reader to read a passage from the book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. If possible, read this from a copy of the actual book, but if one is not available, the text is available at: https://www.pottermore.com/book-extract-long/a-true-gryffindor
- Optional: you may wish to play the theme music from the Harry Potter films as the students leave the assembly, in which case you will also need the means to do this. A version is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhL2HRAVKZs (4.51 minutes long)
- I wonder how many of you have watched the BBC TV series Who Do You Think You Are?. It charts the journeys of various celebrities in their search through their family history, discovering any number of revelations and family secrets.
- Who would have guessed that Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary, was distantly related to George II? Or that Emma Willis’s great-great-grandfather was a would-be murderer? Or that Ainsley Harriott’s great-great-grandfather was a white slave trader in Jamaica?
- Other famous faces such as Graham Norton, Meera Syal and Colin Jackson have all been shown researching their family trees on the series. They went on an often surprising and sometimes emotional journey as they discovered family they never knew existed and secrets they had no idea were there. More often than not, they were not who they thought they were.
- These programmes have a strange effect on the viewer. We see people who we think we know from what we see on TV, and they turn out to be someone completely different. Our prejudices and opinions about that person are put to the test, and it often leaves us asking the same question: who am I?
- ‘Who am I?’ is one of the biggest questions we can ask. Think about it for a second. It is a question that has puzzled the human race since time began.
The famous philosopher, René Descartes, said, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ But how does that help us? What Descartes was saying was that because he thinks, he must exist.
It is something that we can spend a long time considering. I am who I am. But is it about my outer self that I project to the world, or is it more about my inner self?
- Am I what I look like?
- Am I my family, and all the influences that they have on me?
- Am I my relationships and how I am with other people?
- Am I what I do?
- Does what I do define me?
I doubt that if you look up the word ‘teacher’ in the dictionary, you will find a picture of me!
- Perhaps it is our decisions that make us who we are, or even our religion?
Religious books give us good examples of people who have trouble with who they are. St Paul had a life-changing experience on the road to Damascus. Instead of being someone who persecuted Christians, he became one of their most influential believers, spreading the news about Jesus far and wide.
Likewise Abraham, who became the founding father of three main religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – had to make certain decisions and choices that would change who he was.
- Even wizards have problems with their identity! Listen to poor Harry Potter.
Read the passage from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.
Time for reflection
‘It is our choices . . . that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.’
Does that make sense to us?
What choices have we made recently? They have all brought us to where we are, and that ultimately makes us who we are.
Every choice that we have ever made, whether it is good or bad, has brought us to this point.
Let’s think for a moment about the question, ‘Who do you think you are?’
Pause to allow time for thought.
No doubt there will be many different answers to this question, just as there were for the celebrities on the BBC TV series. However, your answer will be intrinsically about you because whoever we think we are, we all want to be pleased to be the unique and special people that we are.
Who am I? I am many things: my parents, my friends, even the music I sing.
Who are you? Sometimes, you are hidden. Help me to see the real you, to take the time to look.
Please help us to look beyond the surface of those around us and see the real people.
Help us to understand that we are special, unique and loved.
‘I am amazing’ by Philippa Hanna, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVNKj0fbMiU (4.21 minutes long)