Description: We don't know who we are - we are dead inside - controlled by circumstances
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
I Don’t Know Who I Am!
by Ernest O’Neill
We’re discussing on this program the fact that many of us are dead even though we are alive. That is, we have
died inside. We have trouble finding ourselves. Sometimes we look inside and wonder, is there anybody there?
That is, we wonder really who we are, and what we are doing here and what the purpose of our lives is. And why
we should undertake this grueling grind week after week after week. And we find increasingly that it is
difficult to discover ourselves even as we knew ourselves as little children. It seems that something has gone
dead inside and there’s a great deal of emptiness inside.
And many of us feel that who aren’t at all inactive in our lives. Many of us are very responsible business
people, very responsible academics, very responsible tradesmen or tradeswomen, and we do a good job and we
take care of our families and we take care of our friends and responsibilities. And we go to work day after
day, we come home and make nice dinners and we go out at the weekends and we appear in every way to be normal
human beings. We are not at all people who have stepped out of life or have clicked the whole thing off. We
take part in life.
We are the people who keep the wheels of commerce turning, as they say, and keep the universities and the
schools open. And yet, we have lost any personal interest in what we are doing. We’ve lost any sense of
dynamic in what we’re doing. We just do it, because — well, all kinds of reasons. But most of them are
attached to the need to survive. We feel that we need food obviously, to stay alive for tomorrow so that we
can have time to think out why we are alive today. And we feel we need some clothes to keep us warm so that we
can remain on this planet in some degree of comfort. And we feel we need a home obviously, because you need
somewhere to come home to and to sleep.
And so, we have dedicated our lives to ensuring that we have those things. And we’ve now discovered that those
things are driving us. It’s the old story that everything you own owns you! Every piece of property you have
requires your time and your service to maintain it. And we have found that the drives that are making us do
things have become the whole motivation and the whole motivational center of our lives.
If you ask many of us why we are stockbrokers, or you ask us why we are teachers or you ask us why we’re
joiners or carpenters or electricians or you ask us why we’re bus drivers or why we’re shop assistants, we’ll
answer, “Well, I have to do something. I have to do something to earn my money and to keep alive and to keep
myself together — to keep body and soul together. I have to do something.”
And most of us, even those of us who apparently occupy very exciting jobs as executives, or even those of us
who may occupy very artistic jobs as instrumentalists or professional players or writers or composers often
answer the same way. “Well, it has become a necessity. We now have a degree of economic survival that we have
We now have a life style we have grown used to. We do these things because we have to do them. And so many of
us have discovered that there is no reason any longer inside for doing the things that we are doing. We just
do them, driven by the need for security.
It’s the same with the need for self esteem. Many of us, even in the artistic world or in the dramatic world,
find ourselves doing lots of things because of the applause. That’s it. We are really like little performing
monkeys. The bigger the applause, the better the review in the newspaper, the more we smile and grimace like a
monkey, and the happier we seem to be. It’s as if we are dependent on cookies. And as long as you keep
throwing us cookies, we’ll keep dancing or we’ll keep singing or we’ll keep composing or we’ll keep writing or
we’ll keep announcing or we’ll keep talking. But just give us something; give us little cookies.
And so, we find we are driven men and women. We aren’t motivated from within any longer, we are just driven
from the outside. And we have become, virtually, like R2D2, you remember, in the movie. We’ve become like a
robot that is controlled from the outside by other people, other circumstances, by things.
And we find it too with happiness. Even our drive for happiness has often something manic about it. It is
often governed by the sense that years are passing and we had better enjoy what we can while we can, so let’s
get all the enjoyment we can. And often we find ourselves getting up and going out to, as we say, “enjoy
ourselves” when really, we would rather not. But we feel this dramatic, dynamic urge to keep going, keep
moving. It’s almost as if we’re like the gentleman you remember that died in that expedition to the Antarctic.
We feel that if we don’t keep moving, we’ll freeze to death.
And so, we have this frenetic urge to keep going. But so often all our activity is governed from the outside.
And if you ever asked us why we were doing what we were doing, we’d say, “Well, we need the money,” or, “Well,
it seems to fulfill me”, or “It seems to be what I’m supposed to do.” But many of have no sense of inner
dynamic at all, and we look inside and we wonder, where are you? Where are you?
Because the other thing that has happened to many of us is, these activities governed by these outside
necessities have, in fact, gravely affected the people that we used to be. They have virtually changed our
personalities. They have certainly perverted the way we used to operate when we were children. When we were
children, we tended to operate from inside, from things that we thought inside.
Now, we are so used to pleasing people, so used to getting the right person to smile at us, so used to getting
the right money for the right job, so used to stimulating our bodies and our emotions by certain things we
drink or eat that we have, in fact, perverted the very personalities that we possess. So that, we’re hardly
able to recognize the people that we used to be. And in fact, that is what has happened. Many of us have
It is a shame that many of us in our marriages, you know, come to that point — you know it well — where the
wife says to the husband, “You’re not the person I married.” Or, the husband says to the wife, “You’re not the
person that I married.” Well in a real sense, of course, none of us are the people we married because we’ve
all changed as the years have passed. But that’s normally not what we mean when we say that. We normally mean,
“You’ve deteriorated from the person I used to know. You’re not the fine person that I once loved.” And in
fact, that has happened to many of us. We have actually died inside even though we’re continuing to live on
And it’s as if we are now non-entities. It’s as if those of us, even who try hardest (and usually that’s the
people in the public eye) to be liked and to be approved of are the people who become the greatest
non-entities. They lose their personalities — they are conformed to the image of this world more than anybody
else is. It’s as if the world just dominates you and you become conformed to what it wants you to be. That’s
the tragedy! That many of us have ceased to be alive inside and have become instead the consumer statistics,
or the over-achievers, or the successful financiers that the world approves of.
And that’s where the phrase comes from, if you remember it, “being conformed to the image of this world.” It
means that you’re being governed by what everybody around you thinks you should be — by what the things and
circumstances in the world are making you. That’s what you’re becoming. That’s what you’re conforming to.
For many of us, that has meant the death of ourselves inside. So that we no longer can find ourselves, we no
longer can discover what we were meant to be, or how we used to think. And so, we’re actually dead inside.
And of course that’s what this man Jesus of Nazareth said would happen to us. He said we would all die. We
would become dead. Let’s talk a little more about whether anything can be done about that.