August 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
What is identity?
Identity is the fact of being who or what a person or thing is. It is about recognising ourselves with something other than ourselves. This tells us something crucial about the nature of a person. We need an identity to gauge our value and importance in our own eyes and in the eyes of the others. If you see synonyms of the word identity they are self, individuality, ego, personality, character, similarity, sameness, oneness and you get the idea.
Identity can hold a certain meaning for an individual and a different meaning from the perspective of a group. From an individual’s standpoint it gives a person a certain sense of belonging, security and stability in an otherwise unknown world and unpredictable life. Almost everything from civilizations, cultures, institutions, cult following, fan following, religion, family name, society is to give one an identity with which he/she identifies themselves or others can identify them as. Identities are important to help a person bond with others so that his/her understanding and experience of the world becomes relatively easy and comprehensible. Identities provide a tried and tested map for navigation in journey of life. But are identities always helpful or is this safety backfiring on us by not allowing us to become exploratory and have open minds in the truest sense?
Consider present day India. When a child is born the first id given to him/her is the name of the family. The pre-assumed id given is the affiliation to a certain religion which is of the parents. Another pre-assumed id is the caste of the family. Since you are born in India another id given to you is that of an Indian and the place you are born in. As the child grows up various ids are taken and given to the child. Which school he has gone to, which college he goes to, which profession one takes or is forced to take. Thus various innumerable tags and roles are given to play. All these ids are alright as long as a person is able to think on his own. The importance of all the institutions lies in the fact that they have certain strengths within them. When a person belongs to an institute he will ,by-default, imbibe within him the values that are practiced by the members of that institution. The ideal role of these institutions is to make the child or an individual capable enough to understand what might be right or wrong in a situation and not be afraid. Instead of this, members say something else, do something else, pass on their biases knowingly or unknowingly to both children and grown-up alike thus leaving them confused and highly influenced by that confusion. They promote limited curiosity. This results in a child/person who doesn’t ask the right questions but only questions to impress or asks comfortable questions, doesn’t observe what is happening around him and is desensitized due to lack of any understanding. All those traits which have led mankind to current state of development and prosperity both technologically and culturally are systematically suppressed in a child. The abilities to observe, not hold any pre-informed biases, ask questions based on observation irrespective of the comfort of the others, strength of mind to ask the right questions and seek its answers and the courage to act in a situation according to the need of the situation are what each identity giving institution should provide. Lack of such traits leads one to become a human-robot instead of being a human. Change whether internal/external has never been brought by a person who agrees to every identity he has been given or asked to take. Small changes within self which are brought about by the person after observation of self and big changes in society are brought about by people who have shed a certain identity ( whether to take on a new one or not take any) that was given to them.
Letting go of a particular identity /tag is a very challenging task which can be done only by an individual. No identity or role is harmful as long as it promotes growth and realization of true nature of an individual. Sadly that is not the case. Today an identity or a role aims to make an individual similar or a carbon copy of an ideal member with the same id. If the role alignment is successful then a person is ‘good and very obedient’. But this leads to a person becoming a robot doing similar things as people have done in the past and becomes a fanatic. If one looks around, fanaticism is what is seen. For example what does it mean to be an Indian? Does it mean being born in a certain landmass and utilizing it’s resources or does it mean contributing to its GDP? Does it mean approving of it’s ruling government or does saying Jai Hind or I love India make one an Indian? According to me, being of a certain country or some boundary means imbibing and acting upon what values that country has been built, formed or perpetrated. Thus a person living in India might not necessarily be Indian but might act on a different set of formative values. Thus having an id is alright as long as one is aware what one is being identified with and identified as. The role that you are asked to play should be well justified according to one’s nature and tendencies instead o2f being forced upon due to uncontrollable events like being born or simply because something is done by most hence has to be done by rest.
What can be done to improve the current scenario then? One suggestion is to be yourself which is easier said than done. Second is that identities have to evolve with time and societies. An id that was working well a few 100 years ago might not be suitable is current scenario. But is this the solution or a temporary workaround? When a particular solution did not work for a problem then how can a similar suggested idea work. There has to be different solution to the problem of tagging and identity.
Being yourself is easy to say and looks great as a quote or a photo tagline but what mostly happens is that even being yourself ends up following a certain trend or pattern. Being yourself in entirety requires shedding of all masks, ids and affiliations given to one and taken by one. If I have to be myself , I should try and think independent of all possible tags and ids. And then what comes to my mind is what I am in truth. The catch is- our thoughts and process of thought is defined by the environment and people around us. We are so influenced by these two factors that to not think in a particular way is almost equivalent to not thinking at all. The people who I believe are able to break away in whatever amount are the ones who have always thought differently and have never believed a word told to them unless they have verified it themselves even if that means that they believe very few things and very few people. Some are exceptions and some are taught to think that way. Not only this but these are the people who have great observation skills. They can see the farce, fanaticism, close-mindedness , behavior contrary to someone’s internal nature due to ids and tags. This creates an urge to shed those. Shedding those ids means un-thinking what has been thought and learned to think. In essence, it means becoming a blank slate, a child again at a later stage. That is what shedding or letting go of an identity means.
Being oneself is not easy. It is the most easily said and the toughest thing to do by an individual. How does one do it, that path has to be searched for. One way could be to find out if we are really our thoughts , our ego or not. But this is just a suggestion. I do not know the solution. This urge to shed and let go only arises when a person understands that there is something fundamentally wrong with what is going on.