Humans are social critters. Plenty of us enjoy our alone time (raises hand), but none of us enjoys being lonely. There’s a vast difference in those two realities. It’s entirely possible to be lonely in a crowd of other people. Disconnected humans are often those that act out in self-destructive and violent ways. We long to belong. Being a member of a select group is a big deal. We often orient our understanding of ourselves by our memberships, even in casual groups.
Take, for instance, the online personality quiz. Have you taken one in recent months? On Facebook these are legion. You can take the usual Myers-Briggs derived ones or find out which Disney Princess you are, which fictional character from a particular fandom, or even which sandwich. It’s a wee bit nutty, but in general, good fun. I do think, however, that it speaks to something far more profound, the deep, abiding need in us to be seen, to be known. Because when we are, we feel connected instead of adrift.
This need is natural, but it can go wrong, especially when it ends up in what our modern world calls Identity Politics. From Dictionary.com it is “political activity or movements based on or catering to the cultural, ethnic, gender, racial, religious, or social interests that characterize a group identity.” I think we’ve gone beyond the political sphere with this to the point that some folks align their lives with a narrow identity and then they wear it like sunglasses and view culture, region, politics, and art all through that lens.
Asking the question ‘Who Am I’ is a healthy thing. I definitely did when I first started college. I knew I had a shot at changing my trajectory, reinventing myself. It’s important to note how intrinsic this is to the modern process of growing up, discovering who you are, what your goals are in life, and then setting out to achieve them. What concerns me about our current quest for identity is how narrow it is. Not only is it sometimes built around one facet of ourselves (ethnicity, politics, sexual orientation) it can also become exclusionary where we refuse to socialize with others outside that identity and in some cases, see them as our enemy.
Deciding on someone’s worth based on any narrow identity they hold is a bad idea. Assuming the worst about people is not a healthy way to live. However, when someone shows you who they are, believe them. If you see a friend post something troubling on FB, ask them about it. See what they’re thinking. What if it’s some terrible opinion that you sincerely disagree with? Here’s my measure: Does it hurt people? If yes, confront them and let them know it’s not okay. If not, let it go. Nickleback’s music is truly awful, but your friend is not a bad person for liking them.
No human being is or should aspire to be a label. If you look at the average Twitter bio, it’s full of labels from people’s Myers-Briggs letters to their sexual preferences. I’d like to promote the idea that a person is not the sum of their memberships. In my experience, the complex and messy people who aren’t 100% sure of who they are, make the best friends. Let’s find out what we have in common, that’s far more interesting than what divides us.
I’m a mostly extroverted, socially-shy, white woman of Irish/Scandinavian/English(and a smattering of unknown) heritage, often-broke, college graduate, pro-life, anti-death penalty, pro-sex ed, gun reform fan with an NRA sharpshooter patch, mother, wife, daughter, sister, lover of books and all things British, coffee & tea drinker, overeater, Amazon overspending, Ikea aspiring, veggie-loving, garden-having, writer, and about a hundred other things. Above all that I am a Christian. I do wear Bible-colored glasses when I walk through the world, but they don’t blind me to those that don’t. On the contrary, my faith leads me to seek out people who aren’t like me. It calls me to reach out to others, to love neighbors and enemies alike.
Don’t let the club you want to belong to narrow your vision or your life. Strive to live a life so full and real that it can’t fit in any bio.