The question is deceptively simple: define your identity. Our author Annette and her family have kindly given us their answers – a family discussion in written form.
My husband tells me that, when he was a child, weekend days in his family would sometimes be spent at the kitchen table, cooking one pot of tea after the other and philosophising about whatever topic came to mind. With this memory in mind, I invited him and my parents in law to each contribute a small piece on our idea of identity and publish them in a joint article. A family discussion in written form.
What is my identity?
by Kalpana C S
I was completely drowned in the mundane trivia of life flitting from one role to another- trying to be an affectionate daughter, a playful sister, a loving wife, a dutiful daughter in law, a faithful friend and a patient mother, etc over the years. It struck me all of a sudden that in a day, I was donning a hat of some role all the time. Am I any of the roles I am playing or a sum total of all these roles or was I more than that? I started on the premise that I am a sum total of all the roles I was playing. So, I tried dropping each role from my persona one by one. Stripped of all the roles there was the little ‘ME’ tucked away deep within the cluttered closet. I delved within myself to identify the Real Me! I realised that in an effort to be effective in role play mostly to the satisfaction of others, I had lost the ‘Real Me’. In short, I had lost my identity. I decided to step out of my role and look at myself in the absence of a role-play.
Am I what people perceive me to be or is my identity different from people’s perceptions? I concluded that I am not the perceptions because different people may perceive me differently due to their own coloured lens. Hence, I concluded that I am what I think I am. Soon, my analytical brain questioned whether I really am what I think I am or I become what I am conditioned to think I am. Can my identity be independent of the early conditioning or my own coloured lens?
Next, I felt convinced that my true identity is my Ego. But I realised that Ego is not a stable identity because it is often exaggerated or shrunk depending on the circumstances. My Ego is dependent on my self-esteem which is a fluctuating parameter!
To get a clear picture of my identity, I used the method of elimination. I began eliminating my nationality (I am an Indian, etc), my religion, family name and so on. I came to a point where I identified myself with my name since my name is my identity everywhere. But then I realised that the name is also borrowed from my parents given to this physical body and once the body drops, my name will just be a memory – good one for a few and not so good for others!
While my legal identity can be limited to just a number- be it my passport number or social security number, my identity as a person is a unique complex code which comprises of my inherited traits, imbibed qualities, belief systems, behaviours, value systems and so on and so forth. Can anyone else try to be ME completely in all aspects? It’s just next to impossible! I am perfectly happy to be ME with all the strengths and weaknesses just because I am unique!
by Ramesh Malapally
We need identity, to correspond and interact, in this world.
But think about it in another angle.
Our identity is a necessary irk.
Most of the time, we perform, conforming to our identity and what is expected out of it.
It causes limits and suffocation.
Are we our bodies, or our brain or our minds?
Can we break free and live like other animals, carefree?
The Cenquiovich’s Thoughts on Identity
by Nitin Malapally
Many people associate their identity with their tastes, some with their values. Even on the most cerebral levels, tastes remind me of the gut; there is a suggestion of something being consumed – be it music, art, or food. Every flesh thing can learn to consume good and fine things, and the search for personal identity in consumption would be a never-ending attempt to get choosier in the taking of one’s pleasures. Therefore, this notion is at least slightly off-putting. At this point, I tend to reflect on the European obsession with high culture, a concept born in antiquity in the romans’ fascination for their patricians, retained through the medieval ages in feudality through the worship of the nobility, songs and stories about good stock and grace, and of princesses and peas, and finally forged into the heart of the ubiquitous class system with the coming of the industrial age. It is now all about belonging to an educated class with an infinitely refined palette. Firstly, I find elitism of any kind outright repulsive. Secondly, the relentless pursuit of refinement of tastes, although mostly intellectually stimulating, sometimes feels like a vitriolic wash. It requires great effort to both exercise humility and remain inspired. And the infinite learning curve can sometimes seem so tall…
At the other end of the spectrum, I think about values: fundamental units of identity created by urging necessities – a desire for better communities, to live with like-minded individuals, to live with people with similar ethics and motivations. This must be a much more important aspect of the individual’s identity simply because it causes powerful changes in the way people live, behave with each other and ultimately, how they think. Once again, in the European context, I take off my idiomatic hat to core values such as Egalitarianism, the abstract notion that all people must be treated equally, which has been successfully applied in ideas in different social dimensions like Feminism and in the damnation of racism, Socialism, the vital idea that we don’t have to be victims of chaotic, nihilistic growth and its side-effects if only we choose to regulate, and Democracy, something so well known it needs no introduction. Through values we can inspire future generations to be compassionate, peaceful, and non-discriminate.
Due to the limited time which we have and the large number of people who coexist with us, it should seem hopeless to think about identity. Information is constantly being exchanged and billions of intelligent minds are buzzing, eyes poring over lighted glass shields. Finally, to reduce the bitterness of the above-mentioned realization and to take a break from such a material existence, I turn to Buddhism to try and grasp how everything is simultaneously short as well as long lived, how each of us is a snowflake and simultaneously a non-entity.
Who is this person who will lead my life 50 years from now?
By Annette Malapally
Sometimes, when I remember things that happened several years ago, they feel so distant, as if from another lifetime. This is particularly true for things I would rather not remember at all – gossiping or spending too much time and thought on how I looked in high school. The motivations and concerns of the person I was then seem so foreign to me now.
This makes me wonder: If I have changed so much since my teenage years, who is to say it will not happen again? One could argue, that, at 26, I have grown out of my early formative years. Have I now become the person I will be until the end of my life?
Up until a few years ago, personality psychologists would have probably answered ‘yes’. Past research had shown that our personality remains relatively stable between adolescence and mid-life and between mid-life and old age2. Taking these results together, we might expect to stay ‘the same person’ over our whole lifespan.
But then, in 2016 came along the longest ever study on personality change1. This study began in 1950, when researchers in Scotland let teachers chart the personality of 1,208 school children around the age of 14. Over the course of 63 years, the researchers followed the development of these children – until 174 of them, now aged around 77 years, participated in a final questionnaire in 2013. The results showed almost no correlation between the personality scores at age 14 and 77. This means, if I were to travel into the future to grab a coffee with my 77-year-old self, I would most likely meet a total stranger.
But it would not be the same for my 77-year-old self, would it? She would meet a person whose past, present, and future she remembers living, even if her personality has completely changed over the course of all those years. Looking back at her life story, composed of many smaller stories, she would feel a sense of continuity, an integrated idea of who she was and whom she has become. The idea that our memories are an integral part of our ‘self’ lays the foundation for a concept called the ‘narrative self’3. It suggests that our self is made up of two components: (1) our self-concept, i.e., what we consciously believe to be and how we judge ourselves and (2) our life story, put together from selected, autobiographical memories.
So, is my identity nothing but my ‘sel[f] creating stories creating sel[f]’3? Indeed, our sense of identity might not only be influenced by the stories that we tell ourselves, but also by the ones that others tell us – and that society deems worthy of remembering. In an international study, researchers found that middle-aged adults recall more life events from when they were between 15 and 30 years old than from any other time in their life. This might partially be due to the ‘cultural life script’. According to this theory, people from many cultures share expectations of what makes a prototypical life – with most of the transitional events happening in the 2nd and 3rd decade of life, like marriage, having children, or choosing a career4. The influence of people around us thus is important for the construction of memories.
But what about the stories I will not remember, the selves I will not remember being, once I am 77? Will those parts of me have died? And if those memories will be lost and my personality has changed, who is this person who will lead my life 50 years from now? With my personality changed, my memories chosen without my conscious decision and this very moment maybe forgotten, I have reasons to doubt it will be me.
 Harris, M. A., Brett, C. E., Johnson, W., & Deary, I. J. (2016). Personality stability from age 14 to age 77 years. Psychology and aging, 31(8), 862.
 Jarrett, J. (2017). Longest ever personality study finds no correlation between measures taken at age 14 and age 77. https://digest.bps.org.uk/2017/02/07/longest-ever-personality-study-finds-no-correlation-between-measures-taken-at-age-14-and-age-77/
 McLean, K. C., Pasupathi, M., & Pals, J. L. (2007). Selves creating stories creating selves: A process model of self-development. Personality and social psychology review, 11(3), 262-278.
 Scherman, A. Z. (2013). Cultural life script theory and the reminiscence bump: A reanalysis of seven studies across cultures. Nordic Psychology, 65(2), 103-119.