Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Somebody Else

John F Kennedy Park Dock, Napa, California, USA

November 15, 2006



"I yam what I yam." ... Popeye the Sailor

I am indebted to my son Joshua Nelson Platt who inspired this conversation.




I've never wanted to be somebody else.

When I was a child, my friends knew who they wanted to be  when they grew up. That, as we know, is childspeak  for who they wanted to be like  when they grew up. But saying it that way, "who they wanted to be" when they grew up, is good enough for jazz.

I'm talking about the children who wanted to be Roy Rogers when they grew up. I'm talking about the children, girls in particular, who wanted to be Maria, Julie Andrews' role in The Sound Of Music, when they grew up. Or The Lone Ranger. Or, later, Madame Curie. Beyond the simple cute  identification, children have a keen sense of who's making a difference in the world.

Some of them also already knew at a tender age what they wanted to do  when they grew up. Although I've not kept track of enough of them to know whether or not they did do what they said they wanted to do, the fact that they already knew  what they wanted to do interested me. Of course, when they said what they wanted to do when they grew up, it sounded like who they wanted to be  when they grew up. But it wasn't the same.

I'm talking about the children who wanted to be train drivers (we said engine  drivers where I grew up). I'm talking about the children who wanted to be firemen. Children who wanted to be veterinarians (we said vets). At about the time children have their first pet they want to be a vet. And everyone, from the first time they saw Elvis swivel his hips and then on, wanted to be a rock star. It seemed like a good job to have.

I've never wanted to be somebody else. All I've ever wanted to be is Laurence.

Now there's  a paradox if ever there was one. How can someone who is Laurence, who's only ever wanted to be Laurence, ever not  be Laurence? If you examine the very notion of being who you really are, a question of absurdity arises, which is "How can I ever not  be who I really am?".

Clearly, I'm always who I really am. I can never not be who I really am. That's a given. It's almost axiomatic. So a question more precise and more powerful than "How can I ever not be who I really am?" to ask could be "How can I ever not know who I really am?".

© King Features Syndicate
Popeye the Sailor
For the most part, we're not facile with the use of am  ie be  and all other forms of the gerund being  as an active verb as an act of deliberation, as an act of intention, as an act of creation the way Werner Erhard uses it. We use it instead somewhat imprecisely and loosely to imply an equation. When we say "I am who I really am" it's likely we say it as an offhand caricature, as a kind of flip, trite answer. It's Popeye the Sailor's "I yam what I yam". When I say it that way, there's no real depth or power or precision to it. In fact, its rote, self deprecating humor deflects and distracts from the point being made, from the experience  of being who I really am.

But if you ask instead "How can I ever not know who I really am?", that's a much more powerful question which elicits many, many answers, the first of which is the obvious (and clearly direct) "because I don't live inside an inquiry into who I really am"; the second of which is the less obvious (and more rigorous) "because I've not begun to distinguish what I believe automatically from what I know, nor to distinguish what I don't know from what I don't know I don't know".

Although I get lots and lots and lots of answers when I inquire into what I don't know I don't know, none of those answers tell me who I really am. Yet here's where an interesting thing happens. It's in fleshing out what I don't know I don't know  that I find out who I really am.

What tells me who I really am is the context  I discover in which I hold both the inquiry and all the answers to the inquiry into what I don't know I don't know. That context is who I really am. The more I live in the inquiry, the more answers I get to the inquiry, and the more the context is revealed for both the inquiry and for all the answers to the inquiry into what I don't know I don't know. That is who I am.

And that's the way I'm saying it when I say that's all I've ever wanted to be. If I'm going to be known for anything at all then it's of not much interest to me to be known for doing something or for having something although it's certainly possible that may happen, indeed it's certainly possible that's already happened. I'd rather be known simply for being who I really am.

I've never wanted to be somebody else. Laurence would rather be Laurence. This is a way of being worth being and worth sharing.



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