Know Thy Self
August 11, 2006
Three men were walking down a road together, when – without warning – they found themselves standing in front of a demon.
“I am ignorance, and I am hate,” the demon bellowed, “I am fear, and I am weakness.”
“I am” the demon said “here to destroy you.”
The three men, understandably both shocked and afraid, stood motionless before the demon. None knew quite what to do. Then, one of the men gathered his courage and asked the demon if there is no possibility of reprieve, if there was any way to save them from this terrible fate?
The demon, being a rogue and a gambler as demons are apt to be, bent his toothy maw into a crooked smile and gazed down at the three men.
“There is a way,” the demon chuckled “my powers are nearly limitless, but I cannot touch the core of humanity.”
“Tell me who you really are,” the demon solemnly promised. “Tell me of what I cannot harm, and I shall let you go.”
Hearing this news, the three men’s spirits lifted somewhat. The situation was grim, but each man figured the demon’s request did not seem too difficult.
A few moments passed, then the youngest of the men stepped forward.
“I can answer you demon!” the young man exclaimed.
“I,” he began “am a successful business man, a loving husband, a respected scholar, and an accomplished musician. I have earned the admiration and respect of my neighbours and friends, financial security through hard work, and knowledge and information through study. I am young, yet already I have worked hard to accomplish many great things.”
“I am” the man concluded “the sum of all my accomplishments.”
“Oh, but you are so much more” the demon replied in a whisper. The demon then flexed and a great fire sprang forth from the earth. The fire burned for a moment then leapt forth and engulfed the young man and all that he treasured. The fire raged and burned and when it was finished nothing was left of the young man’s accomplishments but ashes and memories.
The demon smiled, and cast the young man into the abyss.
Shaken the two remaining men stayed silent. Several minutes passed before one of the men, an old and wise looking man, stepped forward.
“I will answer you demon,” the old man said softly. “I am old, and I have worked many jobs, loved many people and worn many hats. I am too old to believe in accomplishments, I am only what I have chosen to be.”
“I have made many good choices, and many bad. I have learned many lessons, some easily and others through pain and loss.”
“I am,” the old man concluded “the final expression of my own free will, my wisdom.”
“Still you are more” came the demon’s reply. With a mighty roar he tore asunder all the choices the old man had made in his life, unlearned all the lessons, until the old man stood alone and naked. Stripped of both past and future, the man went tumbling willingly into the bleakness of the abyss.
The final man stood motionless for some time, his brow furrowed in pensive meditation. Finally, a long while later, the final man took a step forward and spoke.
“You are a vile and treacherous creature” the young man said to the demon “and you have tricked two good men before me with your riddle, despite the fact that they were not entirely wrong.”
“I am, like the young man said, surrounded and supported by my accomplishments. I am also, as the old man said, accompanied throughout my life by my past experiences and choices.”
“But,” the final man continued “I am neither defined by my accomplishments, nor limited by my experiences.”
“I am neither my wisdom nor my accomplishments,” the man slowly said “nor am I even sure that I am the same me as I was in the past, or that I will be in the future.”
“All I can know is that I am what I am in this moment. I am an instance in a series that stretches out behind and in front of that which I am now. I am a single point on a an infinite graph, neither determined nor defined by the points that surround me and give context to my life.”
“I am” the man said humbly “only a man standing before a demon.”
Demon stared at the man for a moment, then slowly nodded its head. Without so much as a whisper, the demon was gone.
And a very different man walked away.