Who Are You (Hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo)?

by Alastair Su

Many recognize this song from the opening credits of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, but few know the legendary tale surrounding the song’s inspiration. In the documentary Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who, Sex Pistols’ guitarist Steve Jones recounts a meeting in a London pub with Pete Townshend. Jones describes how as the evening wore on, a depressed Townshend became more intoxicated with alcohol, until the point where he started railing at pub’s inhabitants: “Who are you?! Who are you?!” When his behavior had become uncontrollable, he was apprehended by a policeman and put in a safe place, where he would later regain his sobriety and pen the evening’s events into lyrics.

Far from this being the case of typical 70’s rock star behaviour, I actually bring up this story because in asking the question — who are you? –Townshend’s come up with one of the most profound lyrics of all time.

I’m someone who enjoys conversations. In a conversation, the chief question both parties try to establish is the same as Townshend’s: “Who are you?” I enjoy conversing with all kinds of people — whether its people I know well, or strangers I’ve met for a first time. And when it comes to strangers, notice how one’s conversation always begins with these two lines:

a) What’s your name?

b) What’s your vocation in life?

In some form or another, you’ll always hear these questions asked. You don’t go to a random stranger and say: “I really don’t like the cologne you’re wearing — it smells like fish” or “I have this bad habit from young of eating toothpaste.” In order for someone to transition from a total stranger to an acquaintance, you have get pass the a) and b) stage.

Now here’s the thing that strikes me is most. In appraising our perception of person a), the thing we look out most for is his response to question b). Or, phrased simply, we tend to define the question of who you are in terms of what you do.

A classic example is a page from my own life two years ago, when after calling Darren (I think) following my Oxford interview to say how it went very well, the word somehow got out that I got a place at Oxford. Though the information was horribly inaccurate (no thanks to Darren), as application results would only be released months later,  I still went back to school with shouts from friends saying: “Alastair OXFORD Su”. Immediately, who I was (Alastair) became wrapped up in what I had done (performed well at the interview). Despite my protests that I had not got a place, the name – Alastair “OXFORD” Su – stuck for a few weeks until the novelty died out. In one case, I even received a death threat from an anonymous source, though the wiry handwriting had strangely resembled that of Zheng Hao’s.

Anyway, I recount the story because it so clearly demonstrates the human tendency to place one’s identity and self-worth in the things we’re doing. For most of my peers now, we’re in the stage where we’re either applying or studying towards a B.A. degree at various universities, so most of us tend to associate our sense of value and self-worth with that. “I’m not that good,” I’ve heard some say, “I’ve only got a place to study at this university.” But I ask: should this be the case?

The reality is that this will not stop with university places. Its a tendency that will extend into our careers, our families, our expanding salaries until you realise in the end: “Who am I really again?” How many times of you heard of the story of the hardworking Asian father, who works and works and works even past his retirement, because its the only thing he knows how to do? Meanwhile, even though his family gets neglected from his much-needed attention, its perfectly ok, because woman, my name is _____ and this is what I do for a living. And though some of us may feel bitter having experienced something like this, the scary fact is that we’re on that very same path — its just that we don’t know it yet.

For me, being a Christian is great because in asking the question: “Who are I?”, I have to first ask the question: “Who is GOD?”.  This is because the Bible says that man is made in His image, so all human beings find their ultimate value in Him, having created them for His pleasure and glory. Therefore, my identity and self-worth doesn’t become wrapped up not in the things I do, or the fact that I’m going to this university or taking this high-paying job, but who I am in Him — a child of God, once alienated from Him because of my sin but restored into fellowship with the Father through the blood of Jesus and by the power of His Spirit. And this frees me from the spirit of comparison that so often plagues this world (and churches, actually).

If you’re agnostic, this question becomes difficult because the question of who you are becomes a constantly changing thing. Some men work so hard to rise to the top, but once the rug is pulled from beneath their feet, everything falls apart. Its because of this you hear the many stories of business executives taking their own lives after losing billions in last year’s financial crisis. Those executives saw their own faces in the bills they were losing. Some women wrap their value around the relationships that they make, or the children that they have (for older women), such that when people change or hurt or betray them, they become scarred and devastated for life.

If you’re atheist, uh… good luck to you. I guess we’re just highly evolved animals who decided to create names and identities for ourselves for no actual purpose, or a bunch of molecules that will dissipate into cosmic nothingness one day. However you look it at, its pretty sad.

So, when you’re asked the question: “Who are you?”, remember that its a scary question. Townshend got it in the midst of his drunken stupor. Seeing past the superficiality of life, he raged against a question that many people before him could not even answer. So, how about you? Who are you?