Yesterday I watched an amazing film sbout an amazing woman.
The woman in question was the late and much missed Mo Mowlem, best known for her deal-making contribution to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. The film itself featured an astounding performance by Julie Walters, who made it seem like we were really watching Mo.
Watching the film I felt that I gained a clearer insight into the political wranglings of the time; in partcular the machismo coupled with cowardice of the Irish leaders of all factions, the machiavellian Peter Mandelson and the mainly invisible but always self-serving Tony Blair,
But most of all I came to believe that I knew Mo better – that I could see how she thought, what motivated her, what made her fight on against the seemingly intractable situation in Northern Ireland and the unwinable battle against her own illness.
Towards the end of the film Mo was shown sitting at a book signing in Belfast and I thought ” I should buy that book”, her account of her own life, in her own words, in order to get to know her even better.
Yet later in the film we see Mo in conversation with her consultant discussing how long the brain tumour had been there and what effect it was having on her behaviour and personality.
And then came the bombshell. The consultant could not say how long the tumour had been there or for how long it had been affecting her behaviour. At that moment Mo realised that there was no way of knowing what was her and what was tumour; whether her fearlessness and dynamism were innate or had always been a result of personality changes caused by the tumour.
And that is what started me thinking.
How do any of us know who we really are?
In his book “The Feeling of What Happens” Antonio Damasio says “What could be more difficult to know than to know how we know? What could be more dizzying than to realise that it is our having consciousness which makes it possible and even inevitable our questions about consciousness.”
Without consciousness we would not be known to ourselves but even with consciousness are we any better known?
The me who sits here writing this has been in ed unwell for most of the day. I am tired and my body aches, This is not me.
Last week I was in London attending meetings with other entrepreneurs all keen to progress our ambitions for ourselves and our companies and for other women.
But the me who attended the meetings is not the me that attends yoga class. Neither is it the me that cajoules and bribes my son into doing his share of the housework.
And what about the me I was as a teenager? Even my grandfather, for whom I can do no wrong, says I was dreadful. That was me then. I have seen pictures from that time and recognise myself from the images but I don’t recognise myself from descriptions of the people who knew me then.
And what about me in 10 years time. Will I recognise myself looking back?
It is clear to me that I can never really know myself other than as I exist at this single point in time. I change constantly. The changes are small and each imperceptible but over time the girl becomes woman becomes old.
Unless we can stop time we can never truly grasp who this ME is.