When Do We Acquire the Knowledge of Self?
So when it comes to the notion of authenticity, RZA is like “He is my guy.”
RZA is a producer and also a hip-hop MC of a group called Wu-Tang from Long Island. I grew up listening to him.
And I remember being 13 years old smoking weed in my cousin’s bedroom, listening to an album called Liquid Swords. And it was like an alien had landed and delivered an album from another planet.
We were like, “Who are these guys?”
And it is because their hip-hop lineage–like where they got their sound from–actually was not other hip-hop artists. They got their sound from Kung Fu movies. So it is a mix of hip-hop, boom-bap drums from the East Coast, Kung Fu sounds, and the Soul samples. It was really amazing.
Anyway, I heard this interview with Rick Rubin and RZA, and, basically, Rick was like, “Man…” (kind of like me) “Hey man, you are like an alien, but you are making–you started making this kind of music at like fifteen years old. Like who are you? How did you create Wu-Tang?”
And RZA goes…He has his phrase. I will never forget it. He says in the interview, “Rick, I had knowledge of myself at a very young age…like 11 years old.”
And just the way that he said it…I am familiar with Wu-Tang, RZA, and hip-hop. The way he said, “I had knowledge of myself at a very young age.” For me, it was like a theory about how human beings develop in a way that I had never thought about it.
So I give a lot of credit to RZA for this because I think about human development and psychological development. I actually know about stage development from Kohlberg and Piaget. I know about how humans grow, learn, and transform. I know the great thinkers on the subject.
But for me, my favorite right now is RZA…because there is not a category in developmental psychology that says, “When do we get knowledge of self in the way that he is talking about?”
Because he is implying that he knew who he was supposed to be and what he was supposed to be doing at 11 years old.
This idea is so crucial. I am raising kids and I have expectations about how they are behaving in the world but they are also individual and unique souls. One of the things I want to understand is: when does this kid have knowledge of self?
Because at that point, I have to trust what they are doing. I mean, I do not know if RZA’s mom, when he was smoking weed and watching Kung Fu movies was like, “Well, he knows himself and he knows exactly what he was supposed to be doing. So let me let him do his thing.”
The other thing that struck me when he said that…For me that experience happened much later. I got sober at 21 years old. But if you were to ask me in the way that RZA was implying–or at least my interpretation of what RZA was implying–when I had knowledge of self, I would probably say not until my 30s.
It was very interesting. So it is interesting to think about that as a category of being and how it relates to a notion of authenticity. How can you be authentic without having knowledge of self? Without knowing who you are?
And I do not mean that in some complete sense. I just mean that in some sense where you wake up and you kind of just know who you are and you know generally what you are supposed to be doing and how you are supposed to be.
It is not some fancy academic concept, but I think it points to something so important and so real about the human journey and the human soul.
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