While we were analyzing the meaning of happiness in Ethics class, Fr. Joseph D’Amecourt, OP, mentioned this in passing: “The little speech you have prepared to answer the question, ‘Who am I?’ is probably not very accurate. Instead of reciting your speech, if you want to know yourself, think about this: 1. What do I do in my free time? 2. How do I spend my money?”
At first, I wasn’t at all convinced. I thought to myself, "Since man started to philosophize he has sought self-knowledge... And I'm supposed to believe that this is the key? It seems like an over-simplification of the problem. How can those rather superficial questions give any insight to such a profound search as self-understanding?" But the harder I thought about it, the more I agreed.
1. What do you do in your free time? That is, what do you do with your time when you choose what to do? When you have finished your obligations of work or studies, what do you do simply because you want to do it? Do you spend countless hours on Facebook or Twitter? Do you take selfies with different expressions and different outfits? Do you sit down and watch TV or listen to music for hours? Or do you spend time with your family? Do you help out around the house? Do you talk to your parents, being sincere with them about the way you live? Do you talk to your grandparents and let them know that you love them? Do you let your little siblings know you’re there for them if they need anything? Do you find time to learn more about the faith and the spiritual life? Do you set aside time for prayer, rosary and Mass? Do you do some sort of service, like visiting a nursing home or helping out at a soup kitchen? Do you have profound conversations with your friends, about the meaning of life or the existence of God?
2. How do you spend your money? When you have paid for rent, when you have enough food in the fridge and enough clothes in your closet, when you have covered the minimums for living, how do you spend your money? Do you immediately buy the latest version of the most popular cellphone? Do you buy new brand-name clothes when you have more than enough? Do you go out to eat whenever you feel like it or only on special occasions? Do you save money for the future? When you want to buy something new, do you ask yourself whether you really need it before you buy it? If possible, do you help your family members with the money you make if they need it? Are you generous in the Sunday collection or do you give the minimum? Do you donate to a charity organization? Do you realize that if you have more money than what you need, you have the responsibility to help others?
Do you see why I started to agree with my professor? Whether you study sciences or arts, whether you work as a lawyer or a teacher, those things do say something about who you are. What happened to you in the past, or your hopes and dreams for the future, also say something about who you are. But what you do in your free time, right now, every day, the things you find time to do even though you may be busy, that is what you really value. And the way you spend the extra money you have also says a lot about what comes first for you: your whims, or the needs of others?
You can value something or someone in your imagination without really caring when it comes to concrete actions. That happens to a lot of people with God and with their loved ones. It's true that to reach perfect self-knowledge, you need to ask yourself many more questions than these two, but they are a surprisingly good start. They force you to go beyond the “little speech” you have prepared about your own identity so that you can open your eyes to what is truly essential for you.