What Kind of Person Do You Want to Be?

Posted by – April 19, 2016
Categories: New Release Psychology & Personal Growth

jacob needleman

Seeking to reconcile the split between our inner child and our adult self, Jacob Needleman follows the ancient spiritual tradition of engaging in a conversation between a guiding wisdom figure and a younger self—an initiation he feels is missing from our culture—in his newest book, I Am Not I.

He engages in this tradition be means of a dialogue between the author’s older self (Jacob) and younger self (Jerry). Today we celebrate the book’s release with a brief excerpt about what it is to be a “real man” or—more importantly—the universal struggle of seeking what kind of person you want to be.

On one level, I Am Not I brings younger readers (teenagers and young adults) face to face with powerful spiritual and philosophical ideas. But as the book progresses, the dialogue delves into questions and insights that carry astonishing new hope and vision for every man and woman, challenging our culture’s accepted—and often toxic—ideas about humanity’s place in a living universe.

A New York Open Center honored American philosopher, author, and religious scholar, Dr. Jacob Needleman has been featured on Bill Moyers’ acclaimed PBS series “A World of Ideas” and was the General Editor of the Penguin Metaphysical Library. Educated at Harvard University, Yale University, and the University of Freiburg, he now teaches philosophy at San Francisco State University.

What Kind of Person Do You Want to Be?

JACOB

I see you are sixteen now. I see, I remember, your yearning to be
a man, a real man. I see fairly clearly the forces of the contemporary
world that have opened up to you—that have begun to
influence your character, to shape your emotions and thought.

JERRY

Yes. I want to be a real man.

JACOB

I understand what is behind that question. I understand where
in the contemporary world it comes from. But your question,
your need, is not deep enough. It does not go deep enough.
If you do not go deep, the shallows will sweep you away. The
influences of the present world will sweep you away.

Would you mind if I asked the question for you?

JERRY

a moment’s hesitation

Of course not.

JACOB

What kind of a person do you want to be?

Man/Woman, male/female is secondary, even though so
many in the present world believe it is primary—that is one of
the world’s toxic influences. Human is what is primary. What
kind of human being, what kind of person do you want to be?
Man/Woman will begin to answer itself only after you really,
deeply, ask the primary question. The two questions will then,
after time, feed each other.

What kind of person do you want to be? And why?

JERRY

after a few seconds

Strange. I don’t know how to answer that question.

JACOB

Take your time.

a long pause

JERRY

I want to be honest. I don’t want to be a fake … and I want to be strong.

JACOB

Obviously, you don’t mean just physical strength. You mean
something specifically human … yes? A donkey is strong; a bull is strong…

JERRY

Of course.

JACOB

Can you say what that means—a strong human being? What
kind of strength is uniquely human? What would you say?
What do you think? Can we go into that?

JERRY

Not worried about what others think. That kind of courage.

JACOB

But an evil person could have very “strong” convictions. As
could a madman. Or a fool. Would you ever really call an evil
man a strong human being?

JERRY

Of course not.

JACOB

Why not?

JERRY

after a few seconds thinking

Their convictions would have to be true. A strong human being
would also have to know the truth.

JACOB

Or … ?

JERRY

Or what?

JACOB

Think.

JERRY

puzzled

What more is there to think about? I want truth! Don’t you?

JACOB

Of course. But what kind of truth? Do you know what the world
calls truth? Is that all you want? Information? Facts? Theories?

JERRY

Science?

JACOB

Just think! What do you love when you look at the stars? At nature?

JERRY

after a moment, suddenly surprised

I … feel glad to be alive!

JACOB

Yes. You’re aware of your own existence, yes?
And you’re grateful for that, grateful to be alive? And … ?

JERRY

Yes … Yes.

JACOB

But we need to go further. Are you willing?

JERRY

Absolutely!

JACOB

We’re now in the Unknown. The question is now unanswerable in our memory
or in books. And this is where truth can appear. The beginning of truth that is
one’s own, the beginning of specifically human truth. Human truth is never old.
It is always new. It is always just discovered—always by one’s real self.

JERRY

How?

JACOB

By sincerity. Inner sincerity.

When looking at the stars or at nature—the root of our beloved
work of science—I, you, see that I am aware of existing. I know I exist.
This kind of knowing is an energy that is specifically human. And yet,
at the same time, I am aware of a lack, a need, a new yearning that I
sense is a companion of my real identity. A yearning that has been in the
unknown cells of my nervous system from the time I was born
as a potential human being.

JERRY

I’m not following you.

JACOB

Just look! Evoke in yourself the wonder of the stars, life on Earth,
your own human body, the living cells you saw in the microscope that
you were given on your, our, sixteenth birthday!

Passage excerpted from I Am Not I by Jacob Needleman. Pages 39-41. 2016, North Atlantic Books.

Tags: Jacob Needleman Philosophy

About the Author

Maren began her publishing career as an intern at Counterpoint and Soft Skull Press, where she stayed on for more than four years as a publicist and web coordinator. She joined the NAB team in 2015 and is still stoked about it—she gets to read her Rob Brezsny horoscope (Scorpio)​ before anyone else! Maren lives in Oakland with a monstrous Maine Coon and spends the majority of her spare time convincing him to not eat all of her houseplants. Sometimes she has time to write, paint things, garden, or repair furniture.​