Who am I? It is an age old question. It has been answered philosophically (“I think, therefore I am”) and whimsically (“You are what you eat”). But still the question persists, and most people find themselves asking the question more than once during their lifetime. Who am I?
I cannot hear this question without thinking of the lament of Jean Valjean from the great musical interpretation of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.” Valjean, freed after nearly 20 years in prison, tries to understand who he is now. Here are a few lines:
Who am I? Can I conceal myself for evermore? Pretend I'm not the man I was before? And must my name until I die be no more than an alibi? Must I lie?
I can’t imagine anyone whose name appears on the sex offender registry not relating to these questions. Sometimes, it seems like the only answer to the question, “Who am I?” is, “I’m a registered sex offender.” And that is a bleak thought.
But the reality is that the answer to the question, “Who am I?” is much more complicated. Who we are is made up of an infinite number of things. I could settle for the simplistic, “I am a sex offender.” Or I can look at the many, many other ways I could answer that question. I am a father, a brother, an uncle, a son, a businessman, a college student, a friend, a consumer. Some things are more permanent (I am a man) and other more transient (I am a student.) But there is not one thing that I can extract from all the others and declare truthfully that THAT is who I am. To say “I am a man” and nothing else is simply foolish. Of course I am more than that. Similarly, to say, “I am a sex offender” and nothing else is equally as foolish.
When a teenager has a pimple on his or her face, they think people only see them as the one with the pimple. When you are the registry, there is a tendency to think that people only see you as a registered sex offender. And when someone things that everyone else sees them that way, they tend to see themselves that way as well. It is a logical error, but people do it all the time.
Before you try to narrow yourself with a specific label, take some time to consider who you really are. This is something that requires looking deep into yourself. It doesn’t come by looking at how everyone else defines you.
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