Identity

In a conflict, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that identity is fluid and constantly in motion. Some parts may be fixed, but others are negotiable. However, when your identity is threatened, you hunker down in self-defence and think of it as a single, immutable whole. You demand that the other party agree to your perspectives, your sense of right and wrong, your values. But if the other side holds the same egoistic assumption, you get stuck in an ever-escalating impasse, until your conflict feels intractable.

This description comes from “Negotiating the Non-Negotiable”, by Dan Shapiro. His examples of feeling “stuck” when your identity is attacked strongly remind me of the “stuck” feeling that plagued me during my time in Denmark – and at lots of other times in my life. Based on the idea that maybe I felt that my identity was under attack, I’m going to go through Shapiro’s Five Pillars of Identity and figure out who I am. Bearing in mind that identity is fluid and none of the things I write down here need to be absolute immutable truth.

  1. Beliefs: convictions, principles, morals.
  2. Rituals: meaningful customs and ceremonial acts, whether holidays, rites of passage, regular prayer, evening dinner with family.
  3. Allegiances: deep loyalties you feel toward a family member, friend, authority figure, nation, tribe, ancestor, any other person place or thing.
  4. Values: ideals, which can be explicit or embodied in a memorable narrative.
  5. Emotionally meaningful experiences: intense events, positive or negative, that define part of your identity.

Not sure what the difference is between beliefs and values, but otherwise I’ll give this a bash.

What do I believe in?
Taking personal responsibility for my success and wellbeing. To me that means educating myself and making sure I can make a good living, not wasting time or money but using it wisely and conservatively.

Keeping my word once I’ve given it (even if it’s only implied). Being a reliable person that others can count on.

Telling the truth. Using the guidelines “is it true, is it kind, is it necessary” – I don’t need to say everything that is true, but I do need to only say things that are true.

Not everyone is as capable of being as self-reliant as I am, and I don’t require it. Therefore I’m happy to pay taxes or donate to charity to help others who aren’t doing as well. However I believe in taking care of myself first, so as not to put other people in the position of having to cover for me.

I am capable of learning all the skills I need to be healthy and successful. “I can’t” isn’t a valid excuse. I can do things.

I have enough self-discipline to accomplish whatever I set out to do.

Rituals

  • Christmas and Thanksgiving with family, New Year’s Eve with friends whenever possible. (strengthens my network and community ties)
  • Morning coffee and breakfast. Read with breakfast. (start the day off right and get in a healthy mindset)
  • Cooking at home, big, cheap and healthy meals, trying new stuff in the kitchen for entertainment. (self improvement and being healthy)
  • Riding my bike to work. (same as above)
  • Gym twice a week. (same as above)
  • Call my brother a couple times a month, talk to friends a few times a week. (good family relationships)
  • Turn up at friend’s houses to hang out with them. (strengthen community and network)

Allegiances

I’m not sure about this one. I don’t really feel like I’m part of any particular group. Well, my family for sure, but “Graham” isn’t really a strong identity. We all kinda do our own thing.

“Victorian” for sure. It’ll always be part of me, the good and the bad. Mountains, vegans, MEC, the West Coast Trail, beach fires, bitching about the price of rentals and arguing about bike lanes.

“Danish” – well I was only there for a short time, so maybe not as much, but it was long enough to change the way I look at things. So Danish, yeah.

“Campbell River”. I never loved the place, but I sure am proud to tell people I’m from there. Weird.

“Canadian”. The Boy Scouts of the global economy. Yeah, I’ll take it.

“Cyclist”. Is it still a part of your core identity if you haven’t ridden a bike in weeks? Yes, yes it is. Always.

Values
Environmentalism – reducing waste and pollution through my daily habits. Less concerned about one-off events like flying in a plane or having a campfire, more with things I do every day. Ride bikes more, recycle and compost, use less packaging, drive a fuel-efficient used car, buy quality items that won’t end up in the garbage.

Kindness – make people feel good about being around me. Recognize their contributions verbally and publicly. Never make them feel stupid for not knowing as much as I do, instead take the opportunity to teach (if they’re interested).

Meaningful Experiences
That time when I was 10 and the neighbor asked me to water her garden while she was away, and mom did the whole job for me. I think that was the angriest I had ever been at age 10. Left me with a very strong reaction to people trying to do my work for me, implying that I’m not capable of doing it myself. I either react in anger or walk away altogether.

Shane and Dev when I was 18. They invited me over. I was odd as hell and didn’t know how to behave. They accepted me without question and never made me feel weird or out of place.  Reinforced that I want to be a person who is welcoming of new people.

Roger at Radar Hill. Trusted my opinion and judgment basically from day one. Never had the slightest interest in blaming anyone when things went wrong, only focused on solutions. A role model.

On Camino, Jette showed up at the hostel and asked if I wanted to walk with her. That was level of vulnerability that I would never have been capable of before I saw that she could do it.

I think its good to go through this whenever I feel stuck or in conflict, and think about what part of my identity feels under attack. Like when my mom is being overly helpful and solicitous, and it irritates the hell out of me even though she’s just being herself and doing absolutely nothing wrong. I get irritated because I can do everything myself, and I don’t need her help dammit! The “self-sufficient” part of my identity feels attacked.

Going through this list a couple weeks after I first wrote it, it strikes me that the first things I wrote about were being independent and self-sufficient. I probably would have been like that no matter what, but I think those values were reinforced in the years when I was deaf at school and had no friends to talk to or count on.

It’s a lonely way to live. I’m not sure I want to be like that. That attitude hasn’t helped my relationships and it leads to me being really hard on myself sometimes. Luckily this stuff isn’t set in stone, and I don’t have to give up old values to get new ones – I can build on the old stuff.

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Shannon Graham

Shannon has been writing brief essays and occasional how-to articles at Rocketships, Unaffiliated (.ca) whenever inspiration strikes, since 2012.

She is interested in your opinion.

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