January 25, 2007

Identity

"It is always the same: once you are liberated, you are forced to ask who you are."
Jean Baudrillard

"All the world's a stage,And all the men and women merely players.They have their exits and their entrances,And one man in his time plays many parts,His acts being seven ages." William Shakespeare

It's tough to find your identity in a world where constantly we are bombarded with images of the superhuman and unnatural. Barbie bodies and over-hyped hoopsters suggest that we must be perfect to be important.

MTV is in on it. Their show Cribs lets the 20 second celebrity brag to the hometown about their McMansions and borrowed Ferraris, but they never seem to show the environmentalist living in the self-harvested log home on solar energy and well water. Not sexy enough... I mean, if you can't play baseball in your bathroom is your house really anything to be proud of?

And this need to be over-the-top crazy sexy cool in a 50 Cent kind of way forces us, many of us, to try to identify ourselves by what we have and how people perceive us.

I played a non-scientific non-consented experiment on a couple of my nurses last night at work. I asked each of them to tell me how she identifies herself.

"I'm a 24 year old female, I live in Birmingham, I have blond hair and brown eyes... Uhm, I live in ____ Condos on Highland Avenue, I drive an Infinity. What else do you want to know?"

And, asked separately and without knowledge of her colleague's answer, "I am a 28 year old graduate of Southern Cal, I'm a nurse, I have dark brown hair and brown eyes, I drive a Mitsubushi Montero and I live with my boyfriend in Grey____."

Now admittedly, young 20 something single female nurses are not a representative sample of the population, but they're close enough.

Both of these girls, like so many people, define themselves by what they have and what they look like. That is what our culture has done to us.

And you know what, I think it sucks.

I fall into the same traps. I used to want a nosejob because my Great-granddad's Greek nose found its way to my face and that, along with 2 breaks, left me with a heck of a honker. My New Year's resolution for several years was to get it "fixed," but for some reason I never did.

Know what? I couldn't be happier that I didn't follow through. My nose is my nose, and I could care less now how curvaceous it is. Now it does bother me that I can only breathe through one nare, but that's a different topic altogether...

Now, in addition to identifying ourselves by how other perceive us, we also identity ourselves based on our current activities. I frequently am sucked into this one.

For example, I maintain a blog; therefore, I am a blogger. I train and compete in triathlons; therefore, I am a triathlete. It's my opinion that this is unfair, and here's my reasoning.

Now I've done a lot of things in my life, some of them (in my humble opinion) amazing and some embarrassing and hurtful. I once was heavily involved in Democratic party politics. I held the position of president of a regional party chapter, I went to national conventions and hobnobbed with supposed bigwigs, and I even got to speak to Congress at the US Capitol. But never would I want to be identified as a politician. Especially not now, many years removed from those activities. Now it would be very easy, especially back then, for someone to call me a politician. I probably called myself a politician.

But saying "He is a politician" suggests the same absolute and incontrovertible truth as saying "He is a male" or "He is the only son of Carolyn." It implies that it is a trait of a person, a characteristic of a person, an integral component of a person. It does not suggest that it is merely an activity in which the person participates.

And you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who currently would mistake me for a politician. So did that characteristic, that integral component to my character change? No. It was never there. Politics was merely a game I played for a few years.

And that's why I disagree with identifying yourself by the activity in which you are currently participating.

I've learned that there are only 2 ways in which I identify myself. I am a father, and I am a physician. I believe those are ingrained character traits, inseparable from the person I call me. So that's who I am.

I am a physician and father who writes, and paints and runs and cooks and (rarely these days) blows smoke rings at the coffee shop. But I'm not a writer, nor a painter nor a cook nor a smoker.

I'm just a dad, and a physician.

And that's my identity. Thanks for reading My Daily Spin.

13 comments:

Robin said...

As always, great food for thought in your writings. It's an easy trap to fall into, identifying ourselves by what we do, not who we are (which is often a lot harder to describe).

And boy you have some cute kiddos there!!

And by the way, you've been tagged. Here for details: http://ironmom.blogspot.com/2007/01/tri-tag.html

Donald said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donald said...

Don't sell yourself short as a writer yet. You're pretty good at it.

ironjenny said...

...and a teacher, and a friend, and a neighbor, and a homework-checker, and a comfort-er, and a listener, and a thinker, and a writer, and a philosopher, and a carpool driver, and a Christian (I hope!), and a guidance counselor and a freedom-loving-American, and a life saver, and a person whom people go to in order to read blogs that make them refect....

Submit this post again June 25th and I will add "and an Ironman".
Jenny

ironjenny said...

make that refLect...

Laurie said...

Labels are fine as long as we don't let them put us into too small of a box that we cannot get out of.

Bike Chick said...

Great post. I think some activities that are labels can be a definition of who you are. I say I'm a cyclist because I feel free and alive when I'm on the bike. I wouldn't be me without it. Same with photographer. I feel whole with my camera in my hand. I wouldn't be me without that either.

TRI Vortex said...

For starters, this is my first visit to your site and kudos for being a single father. So much responsibility, so little time. Being a Psychology major, I can appreciate the valuable "insight" that you gathered from your non-scientific experiment. As far as self-identifiers go, father and physician, unless the next guys says president I don't think you could do better. Both hold pretigue and respect. From the pictures it looks like you're a "Daddy." I always say that "Any male can be a father (its biology), but it takes someone special to be a Daddy." Keep up the good work. Someday I aspire to, like you, be a father and an Ironman.

momo said...

i think you should probably take out that "just" in the second to last paragraph. there is nothing "just" about who you are.

btw - i have that same greek nose issue! can't breathe out of one side, wanted to have surgery from the time i was a kid.. until one day i realized my nose was the nose i was meant to have, its my link to my heritage, big bump and all. most of my greek family is gone now, and so it reminds me every day of things to be thankful for... family, love, freedom, opportunity.

and i agree with robin, your kids are beautiful!

ClareUK said...

Just come across your blog and wanted to tell you how much I loved this post.

I agree there are no justs, but I'm still reflecting on the rest.

You have a beautiful family as well.

tri-mama said...

This is why I don't put bumper stickers on my car-I'm not a generalization and I don't want to be perceived by other's prejudices. Great post!

Audrey said...

interesting question you pose. i imagine everyone was wondering how they identified themselves as they read along. your kids are adorable...

LoneStarCrank said...

Your example...both direct and indirect...to your children will do wonders for their own identity.

Thanks for keeping us thinking!