What Do You Think You Are?

As usual, my children and my clients are my greatest teachers. As I was flitting around one morning multitasking as usual, my daughter stopped me to read me a poem. It made me stop and ask myself: What do you think you are?

This was the poem:

What do you think you are?

“Zebra Question” by Shel Silverstein

I asked the zebra,

Are you black with white stripes?

Or white with black stripes?

And the zebra asked me,

Are you good with bad habits?

Or are you bad with good habits?

Are you noisy with quiet times?

Or are you quiet with noisy times?

Are you happy with some sad days?

Or are you sad with some happy days?

Are you neat with some sloppy ways?

who are you Or are you sloppy with some neat ways?

And on and on and on and on

And on and on he went.

I’ll never ask a zebra

About stripes


From Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein



Stunned by the complexities in this verse, I stopped and had her read it again.


I thought,  This couldn’t be just a child’s poem.

Given the cleverness of Silverstein, I figured it is a commentary on dualistic thinking by pointing out that we are never one or the other of anything. We are multi-storied as we can be both or more and it is always changing. This had me thinking…. the narrator who asks the question to the zebra is like us when we are not willing to see the bigger picture. When we hold on to duality, judgments, and win-lose mentality. When we show preference for one of our stories over all the others. Then, we define ourselves by that story.

I find myself often asking myself: Am I this? Or, am I that? How limiting this is.  Besides we are constantly changing.

The narrator thinks the zebra doesn’t get it, while obvious to us, it is the narrator who doesn’t. The questions are ridiculous when pointed out this way, yet they are not dissimilar to questions that have us judging every part of our self through the day: “Am I worthy? Or am I not?”

What do you think you are?

Someone said to me once, “You are either right or you are happy.” The “right” this refers to is getting the judgments right. Who is to blame for what? Figuring out how and why a certain thing happened, and validating this with evidence. Getting the fear justified and the guilt assigned.

While judgments and fear hold a truth status, we feel misery in our very souls. While we believe the judgments and fear are “right” this is no movement or happiness for us. Worse, sometimes we stay in this unhappiness, just to be validated in our rightness.

When all the evidence says you are failing at life, “I am right, I am a loser”; you can feel validated in this and construct all kinds of stories about how right you are……

Or you can be happy.

I have personally been “right” so many times. And often it takes a slap in the face to realize how off track I am, how I was standing in guilt and fear and how I held tightly to the truth of being right. I was in misery with a capital M! I created the story of being a loser, by gathering evidence why it was so: failing my high expectations.

Conversely, when I have compassion for myself and the situation, I would have nothing to judge, nothing to fear, (from me or anyone else). It is in this state that I can feel happy. In this place, I find peace.

We don’t have to chose black or white, or sloppy or neat, or happy or sad, or noisy or quiet. We just have to be us, ever changing, calming, growing, exploring, solving, dissolving, loving, connecting, and, then, enjoying.

What do you think you are?

Please share! Thank you!

26 thoughts on “What Do You Think You Are?”

  1. I loved the poem and the post. It is true. Everything changes depending on the way we look at it, evaluate it or judge it. One “event” can be looked at differently. It made me think about the accusation about kidnapping the kids. For some, it is kidnapping, but for others it is exactly the opposite, it is saving them. it makes such a big difference.
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  2. I come from a family of people who enjoy being ‘right’. It’s liberating and as you pointed out, far more peaceful, to slowly release myself from that need.

    And thanks for the poem. It’s new to me 🙂

    1. My kids love him, too. Such wisdom! We come back to them again and again and always find a new nugget of wisdom, we never noticed before! xoxox

    1. Tina, I am glad. Being right can keep us so stuck. It is shame I think and fear that makes us hold onto being right. Naughty buggers! They mess up so much of our lives!

    1. Stand on firm ground about what you believe it, grow roots, and you will serve it well, Tots! You have the gumption, and you inspire us, too!

  3. Super duper post, Jodi, and what a great poem to help illustrate the concepts. p.s. Christina Carson is doing a series of blog posts on “Who Am I/Who Are We” that you might be interested in. I’m finding them very thought provoking, and she’s only part of the way into it. Here’s the first one: http://christinacarsonauthor.com/the-greatest-story-ever-told/

    Thanks for faithfully sharing your learning. xo
    Laura Zera recently posted..New in Mental Health: Nova Scotia’s Gr.9 CurriculumMy Profile

  4. Solid gold creativity

    Great post, great poem. If we’re being right about something then, by definition, we’re making someone else wrong (even when it’s ourselves).

  5. Jodi, I think that many of us have a hard time being compassionate with ourselves. We tend to beat each other up when we feel we haven’t done something right, or when we think we should have done this or that instead. Like you mention, it would be easier to find peace if we just accepted ourselves more readily. Lately, I’ve taken to embracing every situation that comes into my life–good or bad, I am accepting that I cannot control everything or everyone. I am allowing life to flow at the pace it wants to flow. While it’s true that my house is a mess, the Significant Other has taken to doing what he wants, and the Son most of the time is unaccounted for, I do feel a sense of inner peace. And I can exhale. I think this is helping me feel better physically, emotionally, and mentally. Wonderful, thought provoking post, my friend! 🙂
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    1. I am doing the same. Taking everything in, saying that I don’t know what it means, and exhaling, breathing through it. I let go in a way become more powerful, not in a power over things way, but in a peaceful expansive way. It is helping me too. Maybe I should write more about it. Sometimes it is easier to write about me in the comment section.:) Thank you for provoking my thoughts!

    1. I totally agree! If we can see what it is that is most important to the person, we can often relate. Thank you so much for your visit!

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