Complex Identity – going deeper …
This is an edited version of the video on this page.
Let’s consider a person – let’s say, you, for example. Let’s imagine you and think about what you consider to be your “essence”. That might be some quality that you have that you think really identifies you, when people who know you recognize when you feel they know you. What is that thing that they know? Or you may think of your soul or spirit as your essence. There’s all sorts of things that could be considered the essential you. Whatever it is, it’s something that you yourself could know more about and/or that others could know more – or less – about.
And then there’s your character: you have certain qualities, ways you behave, characteristics like your hair color, or the way you greet people, or the kinds of foods you like. All these are characteristics of you. So they’re all part of your identity, too.
And then there are boundaries, like the boundaries of your skin and your body. It is now known that chemicals, air and liquids are moving in and out of your body all the time – in many ways you often don’t even realize – but you still feel your bodily boundaries. And there’s also your personal boundaries – how close you are willing to have different kinds of people be in various circumstances. And then there’s the boundaries of your property. You have a “boundedness” and people and other entities come and go across those boundaries. And all of that is part of who you are.
And what are your fruits? Not just the things that you produce in your work but do people feel good or bad when they’re around you? Those are also fruits of who you are. And you are breathing out carbon dioxide that the plants and trees are breathing in. There’s all sorts of products that are part of who you are and how the rest of life sees you and relates to you.
Of course, we can consider all your relationships – your family, your friends, your networks, your work associates, and so on. There’s a personality test called the Berkeley Personality Profile. When you answer the questions yourself, it gives you a general profile. But then can get more specific: you can imagine yourself at work and do the test with that in mind. You can imagine yourself having dinner with your family and do the test with that in mind. And so on. And you find there are threads of who you are that are consistent through all of these different contexts you’re thinking of. You’re different with your boss than you are with your partner or your sweetheart or your children or whatever. And you can go further with it: you can give the test to your partner or your wife or husband and say “Take this ABOUT me. How would you answer these questions ABOUT me?” Give it to your kids. Give it to people you work with. Give it to people you hang out and have a beer with. And among the results, you find commonalities and differences. So you may ask “Who AM I?” when, in fact, you’re ALL of those things. The way you are in relationships, the way people are with you – all the connections are part of the full picture of who you are.
A Native American person, when they’re asked to introduce themselves, will often stand up and talk about all their relations and that includes the people in their extended family, and it includes the animals, trees and mountains in their place. It’s like they’re embedded in relationship – and they are very aware of it and see that living web as who they ARE.
And there are both spiritual and scientific ways to describe how you are infinite. There is a very interesting book by Alan Watts called “The Book: On the taboo against knowing who you really are”. It goes about scientifically and philosophically proving to you that you are God, that you are the universe, that you are everything – and then it undoes all that in an interesting way (I won’t tell you the secret!). He’s tackling the infinitude dimension of us, for us.
So now that we’ve gone over a whole set of the complexities of who YOU are, think about your neighbor. Think about the person who lives next door. You may know them or you may not know them, particularly. But they are as complex as you are, in the senses we’ve been talking about. And that’s true of all the thousands of people you see around you every day.
So there’s a lot going on there and it is important and humbling to understand that we don’t know all that, all the time. And we don’t HAVE to know all that all the time. But we should at least honor that that fact exists – that that complexity exists – and support people in manifesting more of who they are, rather than trying to say “you are a consumer” or “you are a doctor” or “you are whatever your role might be” or “you are Republican” or whatever.
It is radically oversimplifying for someone to put you in a box and leave it at that. To think that’s really who you are is to miss massive amounts of resources and wisdom about relationship, about the roles you could take. Once you start finding out the magnitude and details of who people are, you have an opportunity to weave that into larger patterns together.