To build a life that is full and complete, we can’t disregard or omit
any vital dimension.
Each week recently, I have been taking one of the dimensions of a whole life
(mind, spirit, body, character, identity, capability, love, contribution)
and offering you first steps to build it.
Today, let’s look at identity.
Identity is who we are.
how do we define who we are?
What factors define the core of who we are?
These days, identity is being defined
mainly in terms of race, gender and sexuality.
Sometimes also in terms of nationality, religion, social background and class.
When people speak of “identity politics”,
they mean political agendas that are based on specific factors like these.
But political agendas can easily be allowed to control or distort
our perception of our identity.
A different view
I want to offer you a different view of identity.
One that goes deeper
than any of these currently emphasized factors,
and speaks more fully to our human condition and potential:
I believe our identity is who we are in terms of our purpose in life.
Our identity is why we are here.
As I asserted in a previous post
(What does it mean when we can say “I know who I am”?)
we can know ALL the specific factors about ourselves listed above
(our race, gender, sexuality, nationality, religion, social background, class)
and STILL not know who we are!
Your Grandma’s cookies
Thinking about identity led me to think about cookies.
Don’t ask me how I made that leap. (I think in metaphors. 🙂 )
Just let me ask you this:
If I asked you to define the cookies your Grandma made for you–
that is, if I asked you to tell me what they are—
what would you say?
Would you say:
“They are sugar”?
“They are flour”?
“They are chocolate”?
“They are vanilla”?
if you named those ingredients
you would indeed have told me
some of the main things her cookies are made of.
You would have clarified some aspects of her cookies.
But even if you gave me a complete and accurate accounting
of every last ingredient in her cookies…
and even if you included how hot and yummy they taste…
would you actually have defined what they are?
To define what her cookies are,
you would need to go to the deeper truth:
“My Grandma’s cookies are an expression of my Grandma’s love for me.”
Now you have reached the magic!
Now you actually have a definition that goes to the core,
to the deep level of the cookies’ purpose.
You have now identified what those cookies truly are.
Same goes with you
You are not the sum of your ingredients, either.
You are not actually defined by any one of them.
(And certainly not by whether or not you are hot and attractive. 🙂 )
even if you view yourself first and foremost
as a Christian,
your deepest identity–who you are–
is revealed in how you live your faith,
not in which one you claim.
It’s the same with any other ingredient.
Regardless of which ingredient of yourself
you currently deem to have highest rank:
Who you are is the gifts you have inside you.
Who you are is the purpose of your existence.
Who you are is what you want to give to the world.
The world needs all of us
So, where shall we focus
as a democratic society seeking to live up to our ideals?
At this point, we are in the stage of development
where we are still focused on our specific ingredients.
We are working to ensure that all individuals
are treated justly and with compassion,
regardless of their ingredients.
We don’t have to agree that any and all ingredients are healthy.
We can hold different views on the health of various religions,
political perspectives, sexual orientations, etc.
But we do have to agree that no person shall be attacked or oppressed
because their ingredients are different from those of others.
This is important work, and needs to continue.
As we do this work, however,
let’s remember that ultimately we will need to go deeper.
We will need to define our full human identity.
What will serve to unite us
as citizens of our democracy
will be defining ourselves not by our specific ingredients
but by our deep purpose in life
and by the gifts we have to give to others.
Establishing our deep purpose as the core of our identity
will enable us to seek common ground with others
who may have different ingredients
but who share elements of the same cherished purpose.
We will be able to join hands with others
to give our best in building freedom for us all.
First steps to build our identity
To build our identity,
we need to ask ourselves some basic questions.
Larry Ackerman lays them out in his excellent book The Identity Code:
The 8 Essential Questions For Finding Your Purpose and Place in the World.
I highly recommend that you get hold of a copy.
I have rendered his questions into three
that we can ask ourselves today:
Who am I?
What is my purpose?
What gifts do I have to give?
I offer insight on how we can begin answering these questions
in my previous posts:
What does it mean when I can say “I know who I am”?
How can I create a great life dream?
Who is the real you?
The adventure of discovering who we really are
is one of the most exciting challenges in our lives.
I hope you will write and tell me what you bring to light!