When Arbitrary Avoidance Becomes a Substitute for Identity

As the hookah smoking caterpillar once asked Alice prior to his

transformation into an angry butterfly, “who are you?” This is, of

course, an enduring question. Who are any of us? From an

existential philosophy perspective, one would turn to the

“Pinocchio Problem”. Which is to answer the question what

makes for a “real” human? This is a fascinating topic, to be

certain. However, I am far more interested to examine identity

and, to a larger extent, personality. I grew up in a Southern Baptist

church and I feel that my religious identity was centered around

answering the “who are you” question in the negative. I remember

youth pastors telling me “I’m not worldly”. I’ve seen so many

people with those “not of this world” stickers on their cars. It is

interesting to see what someone is not. I am, however, far more

interested in seeing who a person is. I firmly believe the question

of identity should be answered in the positive. For cohesion

purposes, it is far better to answer the identity question in the

positive. Not only does this facilitate understanding for the

listener, but for the speaker as well. It eliminates the need for the

one answering the question to go through the mental rolodex of the

things they are not. I would also say that stating what club or

group one belongs to is not necessarily the declaration of identity

or personality the way many in my life have presented it as. I’ve

asked people who they are and their initial was “well, I’m a

Christian” or “I’m a Muslim”. It is nice to know what clubs people

belong to but that does not really give any indicators of who they

are as a person. In 1998, I acquired membership to the Burger

King Kids Club. In 2002, I received a card naming me as an

honorary member of the Justice League of America. Being part of

a club absolutely has an effect on the development of our identity

and personality, but membership is not an identity in and of itself.

It is nice to have that sense of belonging, even though they

ultimately didn’t mean anything. Eating fries and a Whopper Jr.

doesn’t define personality. Nor does a desire to fight supervillains

such as Deathstroke or Sinestro. On the other end of the spectrum,

I have encountered people who have answered the question with

“I’m an agnostic” or “I’m an atheist” and that is certainly not an

indication of one’s personality either. Specific actions or interests

do not for an identity make either. For example, if someone asked

me who I was and I answered “I open blog posts with references to

literary classics in order to make myself seem smarter than I

actually am” that would not really provide someone a good

description. It can be surmised that I like literature. But not a

revelation of identity or personality. Figuring out who you are is

one of the most essential components of the human experience.

Answering the “who are you” question with a simple label further

contributes to tribalism which is part of the egregious degradation

of society and social engagement at large. Rather than adhering to

a specific label, it would behoove people to answer the question

beginning with “I am” as opposed to “well, I’m not”. I implore

people to explore and form their own identity outside the context

of avoidant behaviors, club memberships, and specific actions.

Personality is the essence of human identity and understanding that

goes a long way towards betterment of not only the individual but

society at large.