I’ve been reading an old book by an author called Eric Williams. He was a pilot in the Second World War and his book is called The Tunnel, and is about escaping from captivity. His first confinement was in a small cell and brought back to my mind Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and the more recent kidnapping of British journalist Alan Johnston, and got me wondering about how I would react to such enclosure. The more I thought about it the more I realised that it’s impossible to know in advance how we’d each react to such conditions. What we hope we would do could well be completely different to how we actually behaved in such circumstances. Hopefully we shall never have to face that ultimate truth about ourselves, because I’m not sure that I would be as strong and full of character as I hope I would be.
This brings another, also uncomfortable, reflection. How little we actually know ourselves. Even in daily life, with its never-ending decisions, we can surprise ourselves. On one day, we might react one way to a set of circumstances, but on another day, the same circumstances might evoke a completely different, even the reverse, reaction. There is no real way to know which is more us – only our own sense of right, wrong, principles, morality, social awareness – and who’s to say that’s actually us, anyway?!
We like to think we have characters that are pretty much constant, but just a few minutes thought can show us that actually, we are in constant flux about everything – how we think about things, react to situations, read our own and others’ actions and conversations.
Going back to these books, would I have the mental discipline to form a physical routine to keep myself fit? Would I have the mental strength to withstand solitary confinement, or torture? Or would I decide that passive resistance, acquiescence, or co-operation would be the best course? And what stories would I tell myself to justify my actions, one way or the other?
Thank goodness most of us will never be tested in this way, but this reflection brings home to me that I just don’t know myself as I like to think I do, and I probably never will…. But that shouldn’t, and mustn’t, stop me trying to imagine how I could be my best self, and what that best self would be.
The only thing I can do is to try to live each day being the best ‘me’ I can be at that time, even in the most trivial of things in daily life. Tomorrow, I could well be something different.