Identity is a comforting thing. It offers us the certainty of who we are while giving us access to a group that shares our values. But is it always good or does it take us away from our true nature?
Nature Abhors A Vacuum
In order to move forward, we need a direction and it doesn’t matter if it’s the wrong one. We could summarize identity with this sentence. We all need to pretend to know who we are to discover who we really are. If you are not proactively searching for who you are by creating an identity, the world will throw the identity it wants you to have in your face: nature abhors a vacuum.
Human Beings Need Identity Like A Plant Needs A Stake
Identity is important because it helps us to support our actions in a direction. If you have managed to create the identity of a healthy person, you will tend to act in a healthy and benevolent way for example. So a good identity puts you on a good path, that is, it helps you reinforce positive actions, like the stake helps the plant grow in the right way. That’s a first way of looking at identity.
The Student And The Teacher
Then there is another way of looking at it, and it is complementary to the previous one. Identity acts a bit like a martial arts teacher, it pulls you up. Then, when you have succeeded in expressing the full potential of this martial art (by having acquired a black belt with several dan for example), it is up to you to overcome this identity. The student must surpass the master. You must assimilate one identity in order to be able to move beyond it and form a new one. This metaphor is especially true in painting. The forerunners of all painting styles had to assimilate the basics of painting, including trying to reproduce the work of past masters. It was only when they assimilated the legacy of the ancients that they were able to invent their own art. The world of scientific research also works like this: “we are all dwarfs on the shoulders of giants” – Bernard of Chartres.
Being Proud Of What You Have Not Chosen
80% of the identity we claim was not chosen. It is a reflection of our genetics, our environment and our family conditioning. It is then difficult to claim something that is not the result of a conscious choice or simply the result of work. Supremacists of all backgrounds are not aware that they have done anything special to belong to the ethnic group they claim to belong to. The most zealous religious people have usually been indoctrinated themselves from an early age, when free will is not well developed and especially when the will to oppose one’s parents is difficult because it is linked to survival. Much of what we are is contingent, so it is futile to claim superiority.
Going On A Quest For Self
That being said, there is a search that will never end, so to speak. What we are, changes with time, and the definition we make of it too. Countries work the same way: their identity evolves over time, history and demographics do their work. On an individual level, we evolve through our reading, our encounters, our life choices, so it is almost futile to define ourselves in an absolute way, since identity is a malleable thing. What we think will change as our body changes. Old age also takes its toll, and it is not uncommon for people who were once progressive to turn to traditionalist or conservative ideas as time goes on.
There is also the absolute identity that one pursues but will never reach. It is like the North Star, it gives us a course to hold so as not to deviate. Religions are good examples of this by showing exemplary people whose actions should be celebrated as much as imitated. Their perfect lives lay the foundation for our own lives and they help us to better shape who we are as we grow older. Here time is on our side if we can maintain the discipline advocated by spirituality or philosophy.
The Paradox Of Identity
Pretending to know who we are in order to know ourselves can help us to get to know ourselves. Identity can be good even if it is wrong, in that it often leads us to action. In the ignorance of oneself, one acts and confronts oneself with reality. This confrontation generates friction and a questioning of our own identity (as for example in the film “American History X”). By proceeding successively in an iterative way, we can arrive at the meeting of oneself as the gold digger arrives at gold after successive sieves.
– Identity is a tool that can be used in a good or bad way.
– It helps us to surpass ourselves and helps us to get to know ourselves as paradoxically as it may seem
– It can give us direction and inspiration in times of doubt
– It can evolve with time