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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Wang

Understanding of identity

People seem to be so caught up with identity nowadays. Ironically, it appears to me that most people don't really know who they are. I think part of the reason for this is due to the current tendency to heavily focus on the surface level aspects of identity. (Other reasons include how influenced people are, how restricted their perspectives are, and how little time they spend alone with their thoughts and feelings.)

I consider aspects such as gender, sexuality, and ethnicity to be surface level. When I hear anyone describe themselves in terms of these factors, I still don't know who they are. They don't mean much overall. I would need descriptions to understand whatever labels they use for these aspects. Even then, they do not reveal anything about their whole identity that I consider to be deep and revealing.

Similarly, people's professions don't say much about them either. Yet, it is often one of the first things people ask when they meet someone new; it is one of the first labels people would put on themselves when they introduce themselves. Whether it is in people's childhoods, adolescence, or even adulthood, their friends, family, and acquaintances tend to ask them what it is that they want to be - what job do they want to do. This kind of focus only gets in the way of people's journeys in self-discovery and paths to feeling fulfilled in life.

What is more revealing and intimate is how a typical day in a person's life is, how they would ideally like it to be, and what kinds of experiences and feelings make them fulfilled. What really makes up a person's identity is their desires, their fears, and their drive. What actually shows a person's identity is their decision-making process, in both the "smaller" and "larger" things in their life.

If I want to get to know a person, I would ask them why they do the job they do, rather than what it is that they do. I would ask what it is that they get out of their careers, hobbies, and relationships. I would ask why they buy what they buy and why they live where they live, to see how they are making those decisions and what contributes to their fulfillment.

As a final somewhat-related note, people are only unpredictable if they don't know who they are, they lack principles and/or a consistent decision-making process (could be caused by a high enough propensity for impulsiveness or mindlessness), you don't understand their identity with sufficient nuance and depth, or they are under the influences of substances that change who they are (either temporarily or permanently).

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