Elusive identity

DSC_0348.JPG_1Identity is strangely elusive. We spend much of our lives thinking we know who we are. On the surface identity appears to be self evident; our name, gender, nationality, culture, where we live, our schools and the work we do tend to establish our notion of who we are. We become what is expected of us and perform according to the brand we create. Brand has become synonymous with identity but is just a label of identification and classification that does not reveal the quality of the individual. When we speak of identity we are really trying to bring attention to the multifaceted ‘being’ behind the label, calling for recognition of the substance of who we are not what we do.

This desire to be known at the level of being is something we need to do for ourselves before handing the burden of doing so to others. Love and being are closely related. Falling in love is the feeling of our ‘being’ noticed. We expect such attention to sustain our sense of self and when it does not the “honeymoon” ends. Only we can sustain our sense of self. Lifelong companions love not the identity but their partners tenacity of being and exploring being. It is why most people are acquaintances and not friends; why partnerships fail-we expect others to know us when we do not know ourselves and to present us with evidence in the form of devotion when we are not capable of such devotion to our selves. Friends are the people who have the stamina to participate in the excavation of being and then to come to terms with the offerings of this discovery. Crisis has a way of re-imagining our lives for us, of demanding from each of us the minimum excavation of being, of soul . Soul seems an appropriate word for the stuff that constitutes our being. It is intangible, has quality but no clear form and yet has the gravitas which weighs us down in this world. Death, retrenchment and the variety of losses that loop through our lives confirm that we are more fragile than we initially imagined. We also learn that we are stronger and better than we imagined. We are more than what we do; more than where we work, live or how much we earn. However, what this “more” is … well that’s the big question isn’t it?

Identity, like branding is a surface symbol to differentiate things. Being is the substance of the thing. I do not yet fully understand being, but I am learning to embrace it. It is a mystery because its essence lies just beyond the realm of words and I think philosophers, as archaeologists of language, point us in its direction. Jacques Derrida (click on his name to watch a short interview with him) speaks most eloquently on the subject of love and being.

Such discussion is difficult because one must unpack the preconceived notions attached to the words used before they say for the first time what one wants them to say. The world is understood, or perhaps misunderstood through words since we do not all hold in our minds the same thing when we hear the same word. Words operate within a rigid system of duality. Each word is defined by its opposite; by what it is not and language, albeit limited, is the best tool we have to do the job of understanding what it means to be. It is wonderful in its ability to form into words the experiences of living, but it is hard work. It is why a successful society needs writers and philosophers as much as tradespeople, engineers, doctors, farmers, artists and teachers to develop. It is not enough that we as a species prosper for if we do not understand who we are then 4.5 billion years of evolution amounts to little more than altered geography and organic shifts.

We need to write existence. Why? I’m not sure; it is a bit of a mystery. I am however beginning to understand what Wittgenstein meant when he said “whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent.” Sometimes it feels like we are still learning to speak.

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