How is your Identity shaped?

Or, “Who are you, anyways?”

Who we are shapes how we interact with others. There are a few different theories of how our identities are formed. One, proposed by George Herbert Mead in the early 1900’s, proposes that

  1. Identity is non-existant at birth, but is formed by our social experiences.
  2. It is normal to have multiple identities.

So, with Mead’s view, any two people in any specific situation who have had the same social experiances will do the same thing. This theory leaves no room for individual identity. The only thing that makes one person different from another is his/her previous social experiences. People may have different identities for different social circles. I may present a different identity to my professors than I do to my roommate. The identities are not really interconnected, I may as well be two different people.

The opposite theory states that I have a set identity that will not change. I am the same person toward everyone. (People may see me differently.) My identity is not influenced by anyone and is the same toward everyone.

Now, neither of these models of identity seem to be entirely true to the real picture, at least not as I’ve experienced it. It seems to me that each person has a specific, set identity from birth, but that identity is shaped by our social experiences. And I think that we have one identity, because we are one person, but we present different facets of our identity in different social situations. We may present one facet at work, and different facet, or side of our identity, at home, but they are the same identity. Because social situations affect our identity, and we only have one identity, what one social situation adds to (or subtracts from!) shows up in the other facets of our identity. This illustration may help:

Illustration of a model of our identity

Illustration of a model of our identity

The blue cube is our identity. We only have one identity. The red boxes on the sides of the identity cube are social situations, relationships, and institutions. The green sphere inside the cube is our root identity, part of us that is there from the beginning and not easily eroded. The red sphere inside the cube is one of the parts of our identity that was formed by outside forces. (There should be many more small red spheres, for the many ways we are shaped by outside forces.) The red arrows demonstrate how outside forces affect our identity, the blue arrows, how we respond to the outside forces. Each side or facet of the cube represents the identity we show in each situation – different views, facets, of the same identity. Because it is the same identity, whatever effects the outside forces may make on that specifice facet identity will show up in the other facets, although perhaps filtered by what we want to show in that facet.

Any solid shape can be used instead of the cube, using as many sides as social situations – a person who’s identity can be demonstrated with only a 6-sided cube probably has pretty limited interaction with the world!

I think this model is truer to the actual picture of human identities. It allows us to have an inate, unique, God given identity, while explaining how different social situations shape our identity.

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