First and foremost, I can’t even think the word ‘identity’ without hearing this song. Check it out. Just spreading the love.
Identity stuff is weird. At least, I find it so.
- Your identity can limit your options by creating horrible glitches. “Nice girls don’t do that, and I’m a nice girl, so I can’t do that.”
- It can spur you into action. “Doing X is heroic, so I must do X whether it’s the right decision or not.”
- It can provide justifications for your actions. “I did X and I am ok, hence X is an ok thing to do.”
- It can force you to weave a web of rationalisations for your actions. “I wouldn’t do X thing, so what I did cannot be X even though it looks precisely like it.”
- It can force you to ignore reality. “If X had happened I’d be doing Y, and I’m not doing Y, so X cannot have happened.”
There’s probably a lot more, but this is what I see a lot of.
This isn’t just theoretical, internal stuff. I’ve seen people ignore extreme, horrible events that were affecting their close family members because not to do so would have destroyed their identities. Their identities demanded that they behave in a certain way under certain circumstances. They’d said as much: they stated loudly and proudly that if anyone dared to do this and that to their loved ones, then they’d react a certain way. When those events really happened, in real life, to real people, the cost of their advertised reaction turned up to be too high. The need to preserve those identities trumped everything else. The situation was buried. Innocents were hurt. It was unwholesome.
Even in less extreme settings, identity issues can mess you right up. Needing to believe that you have an attribute is all well and good, until you are faced with a situation requiring said attribute. If you plough on banking on that attribute being there for you, you better hope that your assessment was accurate. Jumping into something under-resourced and over-optimistic is a recipe for a bad time.
I tend to come at most situations from a risk assessment point of view, so I really don’t understand people’s need to think well of themselves. I mean, I don’t think people should be overly negative either, because that doesn’t tend to be fun or helpful. There is such a thing as accuracy, though, and it seems to me like the best option. Aside from allowing us to make informed risk assessments and life choices, it also allows us to consciously direct our changes, if we’re that way inclined. How can you get ‘better’ if you don’t know what you’re like? Who’s going to work at developing an attribute they’re convinced they already have?
I don’t get whatever it is people get out of lying to themselves about themselves. I understand even less people’s need to have other people think overly highly of them. I don’t want the people I like to think that I’m better than I really am. Firstly, I don’t want people to rely on me to deliver what I can’t. That’s messing around with someone else’s risk assessments, and that seems deeply uncool. My main motive is a lot more selfish, though. If I like someone, I want them to know precisely what I’m like so they can decide whether they like me too. The last thing I want is to con someone I like into liking me by pretending to be better than I am, only to disappoint them later on and potentially get discarded. That doesn’t seem like a recipe for a good time either, unless I’m only in it for the short term.
I wonder if the issue is that people tend to conflate assessment and judgement. I can say that I’m lazy, because I know I am lazy, because I have amply demonstrated a tendency towards laziness. I know full well that if you gave me a comfy chair with an endless supply of hot pizza on one side and McDonald’s caramel frappe on the other, loaded my Kindle with sci-fi, and gave me a potty, I’d probably never move again. That doesn’t mean that I judge myself for it – I don’t think having a tendency towards laziness makes me a bad person, or an inferior person, or a sinner, or worse than anyone else, or anything like that. My laziness is a problem inasmuch as letting it control my life has never brought me anything good. It’s no different from having a bad knee; it’s something in myself that I have to watch out for, because if I don’t it could cause me further problems.
My laziness is also not me; it’s a current aspect of the person I am, something that may or may not stay with me. It would be more accurate to say that ‘I have laziness’, but that’s rather wordy and I’m not that strict about language use, provided I know what I mean. I’m not the same person I was when I was three. Chances are I’ll change again. I have no idea what shape these changes may take, but if I decided that being less lazy was something I’d like, I could try and direct them in that direction. (Or not. Sounds like hard work.)
A lot of identity issues, to me, seem to spawn from some kind of bizarre value added narrative people have to attach to events. For instance, once upon a time, one of my dogs was attached by a pitbull. I waded right in there, dislodged said pitbull, and held it face down into the ground until the owner turned up to retrieve it. That doesn’t make me Anna The Puppy Hero, or Anna The Pitbull Defeater. If anything, it makes me Anna Who Forgot All Her Training When Her Puppy Was Getting Hurt But Somehow Got Away With It. My pitbull-removal is an event that tells me something about how I react in that kind of situation – or rather, how I reacted; that was a while ago. Everything else is spin, and I don’t need it. I also don’t have a need to weave it into some kind of epic I can use to advertise myself – why would I do that? and for whom?