The acceptance of the different and differences in others seems easier and more acceptable nowadays than it did a century ago. By this, we reach a comparison between a society that moves a lot – as today – and one that never did, a really far yesterday.
Is this kind of democratic reasoning easier? We have to choose who we want to be out of so many different categories and boxes that we don’t seem to even know who we are anymore. Are we all secretly judging? Yes, we are.
The identity issue that the two female authors (I am judging them already and placing them in boxes depending on their age, origins, gender, work and places they love) on identity raises us more questions than ever. Dictionaries can define the term of identity in general, but we can’t seem to define it in particular for us and for the other. Why do we give labels? Because we feel comfortable to define those around us. Why is that? We feel equally comfortable to eliminate the unknown which sits beside us in the bus. Are we to blame? Of course not, everyone fears the unknown around us. And if so, why do we focus to find the unknown which is on our outside and stop to focus on the one which sits in us? Well, that’s a different story. Yes, I am afraid, and yes, I am in search of reasons that may explain why I am the way I am. More to this, it is extraordinary how the ways that I begin to relate to myself change the way I relate to others around me. And in return, the nature of relationships and experiences with my entourage changes the every-day-manner that I relate to myself. And suddenly it all becomes a Brownian movement and I seem to lose all sense of identity. And why is, in fact identity so important?
It started to be, identity is the fundament on which religion and politics started; identity seemed to be the main reasoning, and clever men used it to convince a majority that those who are outsiders are mean and dangerous and that they had to engage and take power. So the insiders would survive peacefully. Building identity was necessary for building a state, a confessional order, so that would bring the legitimacy of using force and winning power and money. So this is why, briefly, the questioning of “who are you” and “Who are we” had become in history so relevant. War usually depended on this, surviving depended on this.
Kirk and Okazawa-Rey think that the most important aspects of defining one’s identity are equally race, gender, age, the level of their education, place of birth, family environment, entourage, religion, political options and chances in life. And I fully agree, all these and your experiences in life shape who you are and who you want to become. But more to this, I believe that your choices and your psychological structure are important as well. Who you may be by terms of natural advantages you are given mean nothing without the aspect of Who you want to be. And if you are not strong enough and not willing, you may never become the man that you can actually become. Nor empowered, nor rich, nor good or blessed.
And surely, we can define ourselves, in the authors’ terms, at a micro level. That means looking in the mirror without having a badge attached to our necks. That means saying “Hi, I am Charles, I can speak English and Mandarin, I am two feet tall, I have blue eyes and I like chocolate”. And all these are equally true, but can become untrue if Charles suddenly suffers from a disease and become chocolate-allergic.
And Charles would stop speaking Mandarin if his brother-in-law would visit the Mandarin-region and catch a cold that would turn to pneumonia and kill him. So Charles could develop such negative feelings towards that language that he would seize speaking it or feel the need to tell us he speaks it immediately.
So experiences are the meso criteria that would define us under the aspects of choices that we have in life. That depends on our psychological structure, for sure. Experiences can or cannot change us in life. If we are well structured and well formed, and we start to realize who we are, life events can change us minimally. They would, nonetheless, make us more aware about the world we live in, but would not stop us from being who we are.
And why do we agree to change? What stops us from acting towards our primal and basic instincts? Because that would mean that we are who we, in fact, really are. Besides laws and regulations, of course. It is our consciousness that shapes the way we act and speak and pose. It is our sense of right and wrong that limits our actions. Does that mean that we stop to be ourselves? In a matter of opinion, it does. I may be myself when I enjoy drinking milk directly from the box. Am I allowed to do that when my family has house-guests? Of course, not. But what else? Why do we choose to act unlike ourselves?
Well, this is a rather easy question. The easiest answers of all is that we want to be loved, admired, accepted. This would be, actually, the macro aspect. We want to feel like we belong to certain prestigious groups and communities. That’s why we accept to wear a suit and a tie, that’s why we join some political parties, and that is why we graduate prestigious colleges. Do we stop to be who we are? Maybe we do and maybe we don’t. The authors raise this issue as well, pointing out that some of us develop parallel universes; that means that I am both my parents’ child and a member of the Communist party, and these two identities don’t exclude each other. So the issues of micro, meso and macro identities are actually some variables that shape one another. And, for example, if I were to be a member of the Nazi party, I wouldn’t expose the fact that my mother is half Jewish and I myself have, for that matter, Jewish blood. So, of course, I agree that we have several identities which complete one another, and influence one another.
And nonetheless, the Nazi-Jewish example that we had given explains well the term of social location and how that defines us. Social location is the manner that we describe ourselves, politically, socially and religiously. And depending on these decisions, we start to belong to certain groups because we convince that we all are the same, gain privileges, surround us with people that we want to be assimilated with, and start feeling proud of ourselves. Because playing the cello and speaking Mandarin will not do that for us, if these wouldn’t be features that would be appreciated by our pears.
So is identity so important, after all? Sure it is, because we feel the urge to impress the ones that surround us, we need success because it has become the fundament of Maslow’s pyramid. So what Socrates used to say in Plato’s dialogues, about knowing ourselves, is more available than ever. As for myself, I will quote Socrates with “ I know that I don’t know nothing, and even that I do not know”.
Plato, Socrates’ Apology
Gwyn Kirk, Women’s lives: Multicultural Perspectives