“You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give” – Kahlil Gibran

Kahlil Gibran, 1913

An assumption held by some philosophers and scientists is that a person is identical with his or her body. Person and body are one and the same thing.

In terms of our personal experiences, however, this claimed identity between person and body escapes our conscious understanding. For example, when I feel a pain, there is no information or evidence about my body, that could show it to be false. Through my personal experience alone, when I feel a pain, I simply am in pain.

In person-to-person interactions, we respond to each other as though we are not identical with the human body, but in an important sense operating “through” the body, which seems to be a vehicle of thought, emotion, or sensation.

We feel that each person we encounter in the world is a unique perspective that is not the body, but the “self”, which is lodged in the face.

The actions revealed in the face are more meaningful than in other body-parts. This is because body-parts do not have the individuating meaning of the face: the meaning of revealing me, here, now. When I observe another’s pain facial expression, I am not perceiving a physical part of him or her, as I am when I notice his or her injured arm or leg. I am meeting him or her, a real person, who reveals himself in the face.

As a person, I can recognise within myself a perspective or point of view on the world and identify it as belonging to me. Every person has such a unique perspective; this is partly what it means to be a person rather than a physical thing. The computer that I am typing on does not have a personal point of view. It is just a physical thing. It also completely lacks linguistic capacity: it cannot spontaneously use words like “I”, “here”, or “now”. Whenever we use the word “I”, we are describing our point of view about something.

When we “give of our possessions”, as Kahlil Gibran describes, the focus of the giving act lies on the possession, which is a mere thing. It is deficient in having a perspective or point of view on the world partly because it lacks a face. The act of giving mediated by the exchange of a possession is robbed of an essential dimension of shared perspectives, or empathy, which can only be gifted when two people interact face-to-face, person-to-person. Thus, “it is when you give of yourself that you truly give”.