Who Are We and What Do We Want

[This post is an excerpt from Chapter One in The Great Growing Up book]

Some years back, before voicemail, a friend of mine recorded a memorable message on his answering machine. As I recall, it went something like this: “Hi, this is Gary. At the sound of the beep please tell me who you are and what you want. If you think these are trivial questions, be reminded most of us have been trying to figure this out all our lives.”

These kinds of questions have been the focus of philosophers, mystics, clergy and teachers of all varieties. Anyone who has embarked upon some level of self examination, personal development, vision quest, or other inner exploration has most likely ventured into this inquiry as well.


When Apollo 15 astronaut Dave Smith stepped onto the moon in 1971 and proclaimed, “…there’s a fundamental truth to our nature; man must explore,” he was affirming a deep-seated need of human beings. Once we have satisfied our survival needs like food, sex, shelter, relationship and safety, we human beings are compelled to explore the unknown. We have wondered about everything, searched the Earth, are still exploring space (the macro) and the world of subatomic particles (the micro). Wherever there is a frontier, a horizon beyond which we cannot see, humans need to check it out. Indeed, we must explore!

We have made huge technological advances in recent years. We have gained widespread wisdom from sages throughout the ages. Yet some of us wonder why we haven’t achieved the peaceful and secure existence here on Earth we claim to want. Who are we and what do we really want?

In the past century we have experienced breakthroughs of all kinds that allow us to create the kind of world we want for ourselves. So it isn’t a matter of the conditions being right. We have the wherewithal!

The cynic’s cry, “it will always be the way it has been.” This a disillusioned perspective, resigned to the present reality being as good as it gets. This is hardly the adventurous human eager to explore the unknown, setting out on the quest for what lies over the horizon. The cynic has lost the spirit of adventure, spirit of exploration and, perhaps, the spirit of being human.

Let us re-engage that inner explorer in us and leave space to NASA and the other outer space experts. Let us leave the oceans to the people already engaged in those explorations and leave the study of subatomic particles to the world’s scientists. With all these people and organizations fully engaged in their adventures into these uncharted territories, there are still at least five billion of us who could start exploring who we are and what we want.

We have everything we need to pull it off except, perhaps, the will. The first step is to choose. We must decide the promise of humanity is important enough to stand for it…and stand tall for it with all our might! Then we may get closer to answering the question of who we are and start acting more consistently with what we want.