Where does our identity derive from? If I were to ask you to describe yourself, what would you say?
Would you talk about what you? Your family unit? Your heritage or culture? Your political party identification or belief? A religious identity? What?
There are many different identities in our world and our society. Some healthy and some not so healthy. Often we mistake our beliefs for our identity. Our beliefs are not who we are. Our beliefs can change. Who we are though, doesn’t. Not at our core. Sure, we can change our health. We can increase our knowledge. We can go to working or not working. We can change relationships. But none of these actually change who we are at our core.
The danger with equating our beliefs with our identity is that it makes it impossible to talk about beliefs or issues or policies.
If you identity is tied up with your belief about guns, then there isn’t a possibility of having a constructive conversation about gun safety. Anything that is said that conflicts with your belief about guns will be seen as an attack on you and your identity. And when we are attacked, our survival instincts kick in – we either run and hide or we lash out in defense.
American society is extremely divided and verbally violent due to this. Try to have a conversation about economic systems with someone who equates their support of capitalism or socialism with their very identity. Try to have a conversation about abortion with someone who equates their support or opposition to abortion with their very identity. Try to have a conversation about role of government, protests, and speech with someone who equates their identity with their partisan political party membership.
Often we see touching these issues as a danger. Just talking about them. How did we get to this unhealthy state of affairs. I don’t buy into the idea that someone who brings up a conversation about a controversial topic is in the wrong. I believe that it is wrong to protect people from hard conversations because it might cause them to so some self-reflection and possibly change their beliefs.
Why have we tied our identity up so closely with our beliefs? What have we gained from this? Some kind of feeling of safety? A feeling of being part of some kind of tribe? We traded in our true identity for something fleeting and temporary.
But all of this is not our true identity. It doesn’t even matter if we want to reject or deny our true identity. We don’t get to determine it anyway. It is not in our control.
You want to know what your identity is? You are made in the image and likeness of God. That is who you are. Everything else is just an add on. If we stopped at that, I wonder how it would impact how we saw others. I wonder how it would impact our communication. I wonder how it would impact how we talked about topics and issues.