The identity problem.
Who are you?
I'm not your woman,
I'm not your man,
I am something
That you'll never understand.
-Prince, I wanna be your lover.
Think for a moment about your various roles and identities. For instance, I am a son, brother, husband, father, friend, neighbor, student, teacher, boss, employee, leader, follower, guide, seeker, and so much more.
All of those are true, and yet none of those captures who I really am. Who am I?
The impulse to assert an identity is strong. Identity politics loves to make us choose an identity to stand by, setting up for and against battles based on those shared perceptions.
All of these roles and identities are conditional. They are roles that we play because of the presence of others in our life. Having a child makes you a parent, the gift of the child's presence is what allows you to be father or mother. You can never be a neighbor if you live in the middle of nowhere, right?
That is interesting isn't it?
I am a father. That is very assertive, very matter of fact. But the very basis of that assertion is due to the presence of someone else in my life. If we think about that we realize how fragile and circumstantial that identity really is. There are so many reasons that things could not have played out as it they did. I am incredibly blessed to be able call myself a father. It is a role I enjoy. I also recognize that my role as a father is going to change over time as my daughter changes and her needs change. That identity is not a fixed identity, it requires change and adaptability.
We hold strong to our identities because they give us a sense of meaning and purpose, something to hang our hat on. What we often do not recognize is that each of those identities depends on others.
You could call it a dependent designation, a relative construct, or a conditional relationship.
What it is really pointing to and what we need to start noticing is that our conception of self (the "I am") is dependent on others. We are all interconnected. Our identity is an illusion we take to be real. When we realize that our identities are dependent designations, then we don't hold onto them so rigidly. We recognize that they are momentary, that they adorn who we are as a multifaceted self.
The first step of understanding who we are is to recognize that we are not our identities and that we are much more interconnected than we acknowledge.
- List: All of your roles and identities.
- Examine: Pick three main roles and list the relationships that form those identities.
- Contemplate: Are you really any of those identities, or are they a part of you.
- Share: Gratitude. Reflect on all of the gifts others have given you that help create your conception of you. Reflect on the gifts you share with others and how it shapes their life.