A Person’s Identity

One of the Facebook features I enjoy is the portion of the profile information section where people can put quotes. Every once in a while something prompts me to look to see what a particular Facebook friend has posted under that section, and sometimes I find some real gems.

Although I’ve read a lot of Thomas Merton, I had never before come across the following quote before seeing it listed as a quote by one of those friends:

You think you can identify a man by giving his date of birth and his address, his height, his eyes’ color, even his fingerprint… But if you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for. Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person. The better answer he has, the more of a person he is.

If Merton is correct that the better answer one has to those two questions, “the more of person” one is, the two questions might offer fruitful ground for individual reflection.

I love the conjunction of “what I think I am living for” with “what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.” I’m guessing that more people are intentional about asking themselves the first question than the second. Yet I think Merton is absolutely right that both are important questions – knowing the answer to only the first would not only give a very incomplete picture of a person, but would be insufficient to lead one to becoming more fully alive.

So ask yourself today what you think is keeping you from living fully for the thing you want to live for.

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