What constructs your identity? Your occupation? Your interests and opinions? Your experiences?
As human beings, we’re very complex when it comes to identity. There is no single aspect of our identity that’s exclusive. It’s what makes all of us unique individuals. It’s the pieces of the grand puzzle that make us who we are. We want to be loved and respected for who we are and each of these aspects are only small parts of the complete picture.
Many people go through stages of an identity crisis. Consider highschool kids that change their hair color, clothing, piercings etc. They are attaching an identity to themselves because external appearance gives others a picture of how they want to be seen according to how they identify themselves. A 45 year old man may go through what’s known as the “mid-life crisis” as he tries to grasp that younger identity and nostalgia by buying a motorcycle or classic car. Everyone does seemingly strange things on the outside which are just a reflection of that person trying to find self identity on the inside. We attach “things” to our identity, but does that really make us who we are? If we shed those things that we choose to attach to ourselves, are we no longer us? (I can hear a few quotes from the movie Fight Club right about now.)
This is the important message I want to express. For most of us this attaching of things to our identity is autonomous, and we don’t think about it. It’s quite the perplexing phenomenon to think about when you step back and observe it objectively. Often our identity is being manipulated and persuaded by sales marketers trying to tap into our desires and sell us something based on how we identify with it. We live under a dome of hegemony that influences us, and we don’t even realize it until we visit another country or start thinking critically about the everyday things that require very little thought to sustain. The point is that identity is what makes us individuals, and it’s very complex.
It’s easy for a sovereign nation with its own customs and culture to have a very distinct identity. On the other hand America is a melting pot with such a mix of different cultures, customs, and backgrounds. Our cultural identity is that of many cultures. Perhaps that’s why the concept of individualism has been unique to the US. Americans want to express the unique content of their character and individualism. Subcultures and groups emerge out of the variety of identities people relate to. People begin to band together with each other in these groups that they most identify themselves with.
It’s important to recognize that although we all identify with certain aspects that make up our identity, those aspects don’t exclusively define us. Individuals are too intricate to be summed up by a single aspect. In fact, we find it de-humanizing to be reduced to only single attributes of ourselves by others. We all want to be loved and respected for who we are, and who we are is never a simple answer. Combine years of experiences, opinions, hopes, dreams, desires, and beliefs in recognition of a person’s intricacies and you’ll see that what makes up a person can’t be simplified at all. Yet we do it all the time by categorizing and labeling ourselves and one another.
Politicians often exploit these attributes of identity to easily tap into what the people relate to. They seek to gain your trust by zeroing in on the greatest common denominator of attributes. People feel that the politician understands them when they speak to appease the identity they most relate to. This is why I’m strongly against the tendency for political factions that attempt to categorize us by race, gender, and sexual preference. We’re much more dynamic as individuals than that! It only takes the time and patience one-on-one to get to know each other, something that can only effectively be done at the local level in community.
In my article “From Consumption to Community,” I described the way that over the last century society was formed into a desires-based culture of consumptionism. This has been the hegemony that has overshadowed the US for quite some time, and has been described as “The American Dream” in a materialistic sense. But do we still identify ourselves that way now? I see our self-identity changing rapidly with an emergence of innovation, creativity, and self-reliance. Materialism is becoming obsolete to make room for the new generation’s values. Many Americans are turning back to the old forgotten and antiquated values of simplicity, community, and family.
Our society is trying on new clothes and a new identity for this 21st century. It’s time to look back on what we’ve forgotten, the lessons we’ve learned, and the mistakes we’ve made and choose where we want to go forward from here.