“Who am I really?” is one question we must ask ourselves in this day and age when social networking is often driven not by our desire to socialize, but by our insatiable thirst for self-validation. Many of us are tempted to assume a false identity and perpetuate a virtual self that is acceptable to others.
The number of “likes” we get can even become the gauge of our existence. I am liked, therefore I exist. In contrast, the number of “dislikes” generates in us chronic anxiety and self-doubt. No wonder, self-proclaimed experts in personality myth-making would advise their hordes of unthinking followers: “If you don’t like who you are now, invent a new you. If at first, you don’t succeed, fake it till you make it.”
While this strategy helps some people, it produces psychic and spiritual dislocation among many.Creating virtual identities often produces people with schizophrenic personalities. We see this in obsessive fans stalking their favorite movie stars whom they hope to become, and in fanatic trolls who become cyberbullies in their desire to protect their alter-egos.
The soon-to-be beatified Carlo Acutis, a young man who dedicated his life to evangelizing the digital world, and who died of leukemia at the age of 15, used to say, “All of us are born as originals, but many die as photocopies.” If he were alive now, he would probably tell those who are obsessed with becoming carbon copies of somebody else: “You’re nothing but a second-rate, trying hard, copycat.”
If you’re often tempted to create a virtual self to please your social networking audience, watch a beautiful Netflix movie titled, “Overcomer.” It is about people trying to surmount trials in life while grappling with identity issues.
One of the lead characters is a basketball coach who suddenly finds himself coaching a cross-country race team with only ONE unlikely member:Hannah Scott, a girl with asthma who has a very negative view of herself. She feels unwanted and unloved because her mother died after her father abandoned them. Her habit of stealing makes her think she is beyond redemption. Ashamed of herself, she hardly socializes and finds it difficult to answer the question,“Who are you?” because she feels she has nothing good to say about herself.
One day, her principal advises her to read the first two chapters of the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians. For days, she meditates on the words until these come alive in her heart, helping her answer the one question that has long bothered her. Later, she goes to her coach and dares him: “Ask me who I am.” Surprised, he asks her: “Who is Hannah Scott?”
She looks at her coach straight in the eye and confidently declares: “I am a person created by God, therefore I am not a mistake. His Son died for me, just so I could be forgiven, so I am not beyond redemption. He chose me to be His own, therefore I am chosen. He loves me, therefore I am wanted. He gives me grace so I have a future. Who am I? I am a child of God.”
In a very real sense, Hannah underwent “conversion”—not just in the ordinary sense of being renewed and changed. The conversion she experienced is best expressed by the Filipino word: “Nagpakatotoo.” She has stopped living a lie. She puts to death a false self,created by the cruel circumstances of her life, and resurrects her real self, the one created after God’s image. Henceforth, she doesn’t need to hide under false pretenses. She will certainly live and die as an original, not a photocopy of a virtual self forever burdened by toxic guilt and shame.