TO IDENTI-FLEX OR IDENTI-FLAKE?
And you ask, “what is that?!”. It is likely that your subconscious mind has already known that these terms are invented from the parent word: IDENTITY. If you already figured that out (yes, you did!), you’re a smartie, and we are about to take a look into the novel aspects of the concept of identity.
Prehistorically, identity was group based and designed to enhance the survival of the people as a group. Humans were still developing their language speaking abilities, so looking and acting in ways that made one easy to recognize was essential to surviving tribal or ethnic wars, and basic daily living. Up till date, an easy to place identity is still important for survival, but the concept of personal identity has become an embraced thing especially with the rise of individualism.
People want to be seen and known more for their unique individual attributes. We have laid so much emphasis on aspects of our personalities that we never earned or can change, that it has become so toxic and detrimental to our growth and evolutionary processes. This makes it that our default is to work hard to prove how different we are, all while still holding on to the identity that makes us easy to categorize. But however different we strive to be, humans have a lot in common no matter what walk of life we come from or where we find ourselves. For example, we all want to be accepted, but because of evolutionary social constructs, we can barely access the social good will of acceptance as individuals except we belong to some kind of societally recognized and accepted bodies, communities or sects.
Internally generated concepts of identity give us a sense of flexibility(identi-flex), externally conferred identity on the other hand is quite rigid(identi-flake). Individualism is driven by the need to be seen and heard, the quest for purpose and achievement, the desire to express our creative insights on life, and quite interestingly, our need to attract our kind for the sake of establishing continuity at least. Conversely, group identity is driven by a need for the safety derived from communal living, a basis for the conservation of our genetic predecessors and offspring by way of building a family, and the power that inevitably comes with increasing numbers and a strong voice. It would seem like these two facets of building our identities are stand-alone entities, but they are more complex and strongly interwoven that it is almost entirely impossible to operate one without the other. In fact, the community derived motives for how we develop our identities are instrumental to finding our individual identities. It remains that individuality may not be fully developed without a supportive family and a safe and accepting community for the individual to launch from.
If looking to understand how this concept plays, peep the LGBTQI community. Most of the people who identify with these groups were able to develop a unique outward identity that resonated more with their internal preferences right after gaining acceptance by their immediate families, or right after finding and identifying with their communities of like-minded persons. Now the question here is: did their individuality help them to locate their community or their preferred community help them to locate their individuality? Not sure anyone has a convincing answer to why the chicken crossed the road just yet, and this is one of such questions. But then we see how the concept of a societally derived and individually derived identities go together to help people to live the lives they desire for themselves.
Is identity fixed? Not really. While there are other aspects of our identity that we cannot modify, there are other aspects of our identity that we need to constantly modify in order to have our needs met. How well we are able to flex our identity is instrumental to how well we succeed in life. People who feel insecure about their identity, or try too hard to prove a point with their identity are easy to break especially when faced with social conditions that challenge their societally handed sense of identity. Conversely, people who are able to flex their identities go ahead and achieve more in life.
When an individual holds on so strongly to their societally conferred identity, they are making an unspoken statement thus, “I am NOT like you!”. Well, what do you think happens when someone makes it clear that they are not like the other person? Their chances of enjoying acceptance and its benefits from members of that community wanes. Let us face facts, differences cause more turbulent interpersonal relationships than similarities do. So while modern day social correctness touts coexistence, we are still very acutely aware of the differences that exist between us all. On the flip side of the coin, when an individual is able to flex their identity and take up to a fair extent the acceptable identity of the community they are aspiring to belong to, they enjoy a wealth of acceptance, and see people of that community coming together to make their dreams a reality for them. People like people who want to be like them. They feel flattered. They love it!
Our identity will morph as we progress through life and work. The identity that sees an individual through a particular working environment may not see the same individual through a different workplace. Does adapting to a different workplace with a different, perhaps more suitable identity mean that the individual ceases to be their true self at their core? I do not think so. It just means that the individual is intelligent enough to know what works where, and what does not.
It takes a strong sense of security in ourselves and a high level of agreeableness to understand how flexing one’s identity is a strategy that wins.
Drop a thought about what you think about identity as we continue to explore this topic in other posts!