Who Are We?
Peter Schlemiel and Our Identity
Schahhh / Bleib Still
Schlemiel is the tale of a man who has lost his shadow.
There are many versions of this story.
In one, the man gives up his shadow for a bottomless wallet; in another
he dislikes himself and feels like an imitation of a person.
Whatever he says or does is wrong. This
shadow does not know who or what he is, nor who he should be.
our thoughts we are frequently Peter Schlemiel.
We dislike ourselves no matter who or what we are. We feel
inconsequential; we feel inadequate.
No matter what we have accomplished it is never enough.
If only we had millions and could bribe people to love us. Like the
shadow, we feel invisible, indistinguishable from other shadows.
We feel as nobodies, unloved, pushed away by our own families, not
needed, not wanted around. Even our
children find us unnecessary baggage. If we had material goods to give them,
perhaps they would care and we would become a person once more, wanted and
worthwhile. We have become a symbol. There
is an old German Jewish saying: “Fuers Gewesene
gibt der Jud nichts.” The past does
not count. Unfortunately that is how past accomplishments are viewed.
Now more than ever, the younger generation live only in the here and now.
As we age, our shadow becomes more
apparent. The person we were and
the person we are now are two different entities.
Like the sociologist Cooley’s theory of the looking glass self, we
judge ourselves as others see us. We are largely the reflection of other
people's view of ourselves. Thus our identity is largely lost.
is very important in our lives. It
can “make us or break us.” Everyone
wants to know who he/she is. We can
see through the eyes of the adoptee
how serious it is when the person feels bereft of where and who he came
from. What nationality is he? Who were his parents? What did they
look like? Were they bright? Did they have a profession or occupation?
Why did they abandon him? Was he not good enough? Did they not love
him? What were
the illnesses of his parents, what was their blood type, their hair
color, their height and weight? And much more.
complete shadow is afraid to speak lest he expose himself to criticism.
He may shame himself; he may be the laughing stock of any possible
listeners. He has to keep still.
He is serious about the adage that if he says nothing, no opinions, no
exclamations, shows no partiality nor exhibits any feelings, he may be mistaken
for a wise man, not as the fool he feels himself to be.
the original story written by French aristocrat Adelbert Chamisso, Peter
Schlemiel loses his shadow. He sells it to the Devil and is unloved.
He has no past, no happy future, and no identity.
As Jews and as moral human beings let us not dislike ourselves and frown upon ourselves as our persecutors have done for eons of years. Let us appreciate our history, our ancestors, our forebears, their wisdom, their struggles, their morality, and all the sacrifices that they made for us, the future generations. Let us appreciate our past, be proud of where we came from and who we are today. Unlike Peter Schlemiel, let us not lose ourselves nor our shadow.
Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.