To tie-off the topic of Identity, I wanted to consider the implications of what has been discussed so far, and to try and reflect on any lessons we may take from it. As something so fundamental to our means of navigating this life, forming a healthy awareness of the power of identity seems worth a little time.
(~3 Minute Read)
Identity matters because, as a concept, it underpins a vast amount of our everyday dealings with life. In whatever form, be it our individual identities of self-image and ego, our gender or sexual identities, our racial or cultural identities… the images we use to place ourselves in the world, with respect to the judgements of others and ourselves, determine what value we draw from it.
If your identity is at odds to the world— if you feel “cast out” or unable to cohere with the other identities you are surrounded by, then you naturally experience anxiety, hurt, and even resentment. On the other hand, if you find yourself identified, recognised, “heard” by the world around you, you naturally feel more at ease, positive, and more inclined to give this back into the world.
So in short, our sense of identity is important because it affects the way we relate to the world. It would seem then, that coming to understand what is healthy and what is dangerous about identity, is extremely important.
It is fairly easy to see what is constructive about our ability to identify: it allows us to find a sense of security, in an otherwise disorientatingly fluid and unpredictable existence. Forming cultural identities is what allows us to work together and build something bigger than ourselves, just as recognising how others perceive you allows you to self-correct and form healthier relationships.
The flip-side should be equally clear, however— too much obsession over identity, and we become vulnerable to becoming trapped in our beliefs. Whether it’s through a negative and resentful self-image, or as discrimination against a stranger simply through their association with a race, sexuality, religion, etc. that you feel hostile toward, our over-reliance on the comfortable certainty of identities can quickly cease to be constructive, and turn toxic.
When we lose sight of the fact that “black” is just a skin colour, “gay” is just one of many forms of sexual interaction, being “beautiful” or “young” are just part of the ever-shifting spectrum of societal ideals— when we forget these labels are just tools for relating to the world, we forget how peaceful and harmless the real world actually is. The temptation is to say these issues are so much more complex than that, and obviously they are— or at least, they can be. But, contrary to what our language and thoughts insist, things can be (and often are!) both simple and complex.
The motivations behind homophobic or racist attacks are varied and highly complex psycho-/anthropological issues, that a simple idea will not fix. And yet, whether identity is used destructively against your ‘self’ through negative self-image or clinging to identities out of fear and insecurity, or if it’s used to justify emotional or physical violence to others through prejudice and discrimination on the grounds of race, sexuality, religion, etc., the roots of the problem are the same: believing that the world as you see it – as you relate to it – is right, and not just one of many valid perspectives.
Sure, you may be ugly as sin and utterly undateable, but then equally you might not. Your views on black people or gays may be totally justified through your experiences and upbringing, but then again, maybe not? The real difficulty lies in recognising when your ideas and attachment to identities are actually toxic, as well as in dealing with this in others.
Perhaps it is as simple as asking yourself “is my attachment to this particular ideal nourishing the world, or closing it off?” If you can identify the sources of those actions which motivate you to cause violence big or small, the next step should be easy… Likewise with others, if you can help them to recognise that their attachment to a negative self-image or discriminatory ideal is only a vague and restricted snapshot of the truth, and that their clinging to it is only damaging their world… Who knows?
Is there anything you have found particularly striking from the previous posts on Identity? Have any of the ideas been particularly new to you, or are they all old news? Is there anything you think we should discuss before we change topic? Share your thoughts below, or use the Contribute page to message me directly.