Identity: an exercise in flexibility

Identity is problematic because it’s a story; depending on who tells it, you get a different version. It is heard, believed, or questioned, whether it’s completely fictional, or based on a handful of observable facts, people internalize it according to their own personal perspective. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Identity is extremely unstable, unreliable, and yet we relentlessly pursue its purification, its crystallization, we try to fix it to one specific point, for ourselves and others. It’s a combination of many different belongings (family, community, nation, religion, race, etc.), but although some may be static, for some time, they historically tend to shift according to circumstances (victories, losses, successes and failures, or mere choice). Some of these we might consciously try to disenfranchise ourselves from, some we might attempt to jealously maintain despite all instincts to the contrary. We do this tirelessly, as though it were a perpetual urgency.pexels-photo-280014.jpeg

The instability of identity in an age of global social networks is all the more unpredictable, and we necessitate a more anchored approach, on which to hinge our travails, to obtain some stability, to be able to navigate the world and make sense of our surroundings, as well as our own place within them, without risking getting lost in an unknown sea of potential dangers. nature-laptop-outside-macbook.jpg

It’s a matter of meaning, belonging, purpose. We want to believe that we are here for a reason, and attaching our identities to something greater than ourselves allows us to piggyback on the ideas that surround that common space, its memories, its own raison d’etre. But we eventually digress, find diversion, disagree, obtain a more suitable niche, loosen our grip, and adapt, or switch allegiances altogether. We tend to make our world smaller, more manageable, more focused, and… less meaningful.

In so doing we might as well believe each one is here independently, self-sufficiently, fully disenfrenchized from everyone and everything else. Each one an island.

pexels-photo-427651.jpegBut even islands are affected by the outside. Just by following the news, you realize that there are many an island facing complete submersion, due to climate change effected by its neighbors across the globe. We’re not disconnected, no matter how distant we may be.

Your story is relevant to you and many more than you might think. We might never have met, we might even disagree on some very fundamental issues, but we may just agree on some, and if not, we would nevertheless benefit from at least attempting to understand each other. Each one of us can and does have impact. We all leave footprints, of all kinds.

Just look at  nature! Sure we have different ecosystems and the flora and fauna are in tune with their respective climates, but  haven’t we got similar functions being served by different plants and animals? Don’t they all, knowingly or not, contribute to the cycle of life? Is it wise to pretend we are any different? History tells us otherwise.

We are ultimately dependent upon nature for our survival, so it would make sense to make this one of our prime examples of necessary coexistence. Not just in practical terms, by visiting, sharing space, experiences, but interpersonally, with ideas and abstract concepts. There’s nothing better to appreciate the living realities of other human beings, whether we consider them similar or dissimilar to ourselves, than spending time with them, and being gracious towards what we might not fully understand.

There’s an old saying that goes: don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins.

I would argue that spending some (not all) meaningful time with people who are dissimilar might bring about some much needed enlightenment, the kind that comes from compassion, and shared experience, rather than ideological signposts.

Getting to know one another, listening to differing opinions, considering the possibility of some basis of truth to criticisms, and trying to rectify our own shortcomings, is a very important way to improve one’s self. This is yet another way in which identities’ mobility might work for us, not against us. Like adapting recipes, you might rediscover an old dish you disliked and find it’s not half as bad with some new spices [liver and Brussel sprouts, for example!].

spices-white-pepper-nutmeg-45844.jpegIf we only spend time with people like us, who share the same values, opinions, ideals, and practices, there isn’t much outward, or upward movement we can make. Whereas by expanding our outreach, we might be able to understand other perspectives, empathize with them, and improve our own.

So today, place yourself outside your comfort zone, and click on a blog, video, or article, from a source other than what your newsfeed offers you, diversify your crop of news outlets, expand your horizons, strike up a conversation with someone you’ve never thought you’d talk to, with genuine interest, not for the sake of debating them, but to actually try to understand their viewpoint. Put yourself in their moccasins and walk for a mile! And when you’ve done so, don’t judge them, reflect upon your own self, and determine whether your identity has gained from this exercise in flexibility.

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