The Limitations of Identity

In a culture that claims to have shed notions of caste and fate, every individual bares the burden of exceptionalism. In a country of idols and virtual celebrities, the realm of greatness no longer belongs to seasoned masters and virtuosos. Greatness is granted to the unique and bold. This mundane exceptionalism is perhaps a heavier burden than fate, because if being yourself, truly and fully, defines greatness, what does that say to us who are not yet great? Are we in some way not truly ourselves? Or is our “self” somehow inferior? The only bearable answer is to blame the arena. We do not shine because this is not our stage. And here we find the purpose of identity, setting our stage.

Identities broadcast desired arenas of interaction. Situations, topics, locations that we want to go because they are safe places we feel confident, sure, and bold. We establish identities to establish these arenas. And in that work, conversation and interaction is reduced to personality warfare.

For example, the person who wishes to establish themselves as smart assaults people with a war chest of facts, quotes, beliefs, and authors; anything to turn interaction into debate.

For to person who wishes to secure the role of “funny” every word is filtered through sarcasm, allusion, and joke. Conversation is not a means of aquiring information, it is an infiinte jest.

For the person who wants a role of status, interaction is a constant reminder of their conections, their history, who they know.

When these three types (along with all the other types) are put into the same room, the same interaction, what to do, and what to say, becomes a fight to establish each individuals desired stage. Instead of listening and reacting. Instead of taking chances with new thoughts— or just thinking less—people chain themselves to these identities. They tell the same stories and maxims. Suggest the same activities. They believe these identities set them apart. They believe by knowing how to state exactly who they are, they are “free” and “enlightened.” They are not.

The free and the enlightened do not  limit the possibility of what they might become. If everywhere you go, with everyone you meet you talk about the same things, in the same way. You play the same games, and live in the same small bubble of interaction, you are trapped. You are trapped by the idea that you must have an identity; that you cannot be plural; that you must choose instead of being everything at once. You are trapped by the safety of a world that makes you feel powerful.

Americans spend much time deciding which role to pursue (smart one, funny one, wise one, caring one, loyal one, strong one, etc). Once they have decided, there is a great pressure to secure this role for themselves. Abandon this notion. Joy comes not from dominating one role, but from the freedom of being everything. People are smart, sensitive, strong, stoic, chimeras. Relinquish the role you fight so hard for.  Don a mask, go out, and play.


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