The Path to Finding Identity

We live in a world with extreme polar opposites, perhaps greater than anytime in human history. Today there is almost a limitless number of ways to identify yourself. Environmentalist, liberal, conservative, globalist, nationalist, patriot, global citizen, anti-vaxxer, technocrat, atheist, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist to name a few. I’ve been asking myself why do I identify with the things I identify with? Do I actually identify with them or do I simply comply? My political standpoint for example tends to be more centrist, slightly leaning left. Perhaps that’s because I don’t own a house, have a family, make six figures or own a business with assets. I also have travelled to a wide range of places worldwide. I’m currently writing this from my hotel in Tbilisi, Georgia, my 44th country I’ve visited. Through my travels I gained a diverse range of friends, Hispanic, African, Asian, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and even Hindu. These days like to think of myself not solely a Canadian, but a global citizen. My worldview has become very diverse through experiencing and living in countries around the world.

Photo credit: Luca Bravo

Who I Am

I am a white male, born in Canada, a country with possibly the greatest freedoms, liberties and opportunities in the world. That’s up for debate these days I guess, but I think it’s pretty great. Growing up in this beautiful country that I’ve found to be admired by many has shaped my world view tremendously. I grew up in a home that is above the median average. My parents raised us with Christian values which I must say I rebelled against in my teens and 20s. After some years of self discovery I found that path made most sense to me. I’ve lived in 4 different countries, US, Germany, Australia and now Georgia, and have travelled through 40 others. I work in IT so and my office lately has become wherever I am located on the map.

My upbringing, experiences and lifestyle have given me a great deal to identify with, but they also limit who I am and who I can be. For example, it would be difficult for me to betray my religious beliefs, and accept an atheist and liberal mindset. I’ve known these beliefs since I was a child and although I’ve fought them at times they remain at the core of who I am, and I’m proud of that. I know what it feels like to be of European descent, a native English speaker and male. The privilege that comes with that is immense, but so is the responsibility. I can have understanding for most ethnicities and their practices, but comprehending their beliefs is difficult or taking them on. Similarly it would be difficult for me to comprehend what it would feel be like to grow up as a marginalized minority in Canada. I am who I am.

Programmed Beliefs

I recently listened to a podcast with Jordan Peterson and Douglas Murray on the collapse of grand narratives on the left and the right among other topics. You might be wondering what this has to do with identity and finding it. Well, it got me thinking about what identity really is and what it means for me. Within the period of one year we have experienced a great deal of crises, including a pandemic, civil rights movements, the storming of the Capitol and precursors to war. Where we stand it has become increasingly important, but also a measure of courage. Perhaps social media is to blame for a lot of this. But in truth the speed at which the world changes and the events are flaring up all around us has been the prime catalyst. This has made it increasingly difficult for individuals to have opinions of their own. There are many voices, so much going on all around us, and that’s mixed with the often impassionate opinion of our friends and family.[1] Sometimes that can leave us feeling cornered, and unable to freely express ourselves.

In film The Island, the dystopian, orwellian community governed by a strict set of rules the residents are brainwashed that the world has become far too contaminated to support life with the exception of a pathogen-free island. And the citizens of this island wholeheartedly believe it. Not a doubt in their mind that what they’ve been told is actually a lie. It’s not a theory or that the governing agency doesn’t want them to know the truth, they just all actually believe it to be true. Each week, one resident gets to leave the compound and live on the island by way of a lottery. The central character Lincoln, played by Ewan McGregor, a citizen of the island begins having dreams that are not his own experiences. This leads him to discover the truth about what really this secret society is all about. He discovers the agency that he had been led to believe to be the citizens’ protector has sinister motives. What he thought was to be truth was actually lies with the intention to control. At the end of the film leads the citizens to freedom, everyone shocked by what they find: a hostile and uncharted world, but it’s free.

I think what the podcast and the film reveal is that our beliefs tend to be programmed and we don’t realize it. Essentially, we don’t chose what we believe, but are programmed. What we believe is chosen for us. I’ll get into this more later on. What I’ve discovered through my travels in Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindhu countries is the majority of peoples’ central beliefs tend to be shaped by religious indoctrination, often from their families. Interestingly, their higher level beliefs, those that the person reveals when they’re not around family, tend to be influenced by their inner circle of friends and social media. Most have rarely, if ever, taken the time to consider what it is they believe and why. And that’s a troubling reality. Taking time to discover who we are is crucial to our self development, learning new skills, and finding who we are.

Photo credit: Andrew Teoh

What Shapes Us

These days the voices are loud and the lines are no longer clear. Some believe in green energy, while others think it’s a complete hoax. Some believe women should have the right to abort their baby and have support from the government, while others believe aborting a fetus at any stage is inhumane. Both are arguably intelligent people with a good deal of knowledge in the areas. Perspectives more than often shape our beliefs, not necessarily knowledge and education. There’s no clear and straightforward definition of anyone. People are a mix of many different types. And that’s a good thing. If we were all the same the world would probably be some form of an awful dystopia we see depicted in movies.

Finding a line between what is both relatable and acceptable can be incredibly difficult. We all have different perspectives through our many different lenses. I don’t know if you ever thought about it, but why are you so stubborn in your opinion? There are key influencing factors which include, but are not limited to upbringing, culture, environment, faith, values, self-concept, past experiences, assumptions and expectations, character traits, education, preconceived notions and present circumstance.[2] This mix of factors that can shape us makes each one of us unique and different which makes it obvious why it’s only fair that we accept others despite their beliefs and worldview being different than your own.

Finding Identity

One of the most difficult things in life could be finding our identity. In George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the central character Winston becomes desperately curious to find out who he is. Perhaps more importantly what was before what he knows. But Big Brother wants to control his mind and remove any form of resistance that might lie within him. Winston takes too many risks and ends up getting caught for loving someone he shouldn’t and thinking about rebelling. He is taken to a rehabilitation facility. He is tortured to the point he turns in his lover and promises to ever think about anything that is rebellious again. He discards his dreams and anything that is thoughtful. In the end Big Brother wins the battle for his freedom and mind.

There are great mysteries about ourselves that we cannot explain. These are the deep questions about humankind. Douglas Murray said something brilliant on the Jordan Peterson Podcast that really stood out to me, “Our sense of beauty is so important because it gives us a sense of what we know, and what we know we cannot approach. Something which is telling us something from a realm we cannot access or access fully. These are central aspects to being a human being.”[1] Beauty, for example is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s so vitally important to who we are, and what we identify with. An arbitrary example I like to use is an electric vehicle (EV) versus an internal combustion engine vehicle (ICE). Many see EVs as the modern form of transporation — simple, efficient, quiet and less prone to breakdown. Meanwhile others see an ICE vehicle with their complexities, history and roar as something to be admired.

Forgiveness, Redemption and Acceptance

Why is it we read about royalty, the famous or the super wealthy, something that is completely unattainable to most of us? Because it broadens our identities. We must embrace our humanity and seek to understand each other. A broadening scope of the world is important for understanding who we are. We should refrain from reckless speech and listen, and really listen. It matters how we act in the world. As human beings we’ve really only found a few mechanisms to make the horror of acting in the world less horrific — forgiveness, redemption and acceptance. Things we would all expect for ourselves We should be asking ourselves daily, “how can I forgive a person that has done wrong to me? How can I forgive them of betraying my trust.” This sounds aside from what our true objective should be, but discovering truth is often done most effectively with a clean heart. These are some ways to become the person we are really meant to be. To create an identity that really matters. When these times are behind us, no matter how long that takes, I hope the challenges will have made us all better. I hope that after all of this we are more emphahetic, understanding, humble and grateful for each new day and the people we get to live it with.

Resources

  1. Radical Ideology and the Nihilistic Void | Douglas Murray. The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast. January 15, 2021.
  2. Influences on Perception. The Peak Performance Center.

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