Discussion 2: Identity
In our previous discussion, we would have realised that self-concept in a vacuum is dangerous. We would have noted that without it being anchored, we are likely to be defined by what seems acceptable to others even if this is to our detriment.
But what could anchor our idea of self in such a manner that we are not gullible to being defined by our vague understanding of what would make us acceptable. The answer is a strong sense of identity. This leads us to our next discussion.
Let me start by suggesting that I see identity in two ways. Those are, the derived identity and the assignment identity. Allow me to explain them.
The first of these (Derived Identity) is not earned. It is given. It is a function of factors we have little control over. As you will notice, no-one has any influence over what surname they are born into, what birth name they are given or what circumstances we are born into.
I suggest that the derived identity is and must be the starting point to making a name for oneself.
Let us then practically explore each of these identities separately.
An old man is offered assistance with his luggage on the street a few blocks from his house. He is impressed with the young man who addressed him by his surname and, from the way he speaks, the young man clearly knows who the old man is very well. The old man does not recognise him at all.
So he asks:
Old man: “Who are you?”
Young Man: “uThemba baba.”
Old man: “Do I Know you Themba.”
Young man: “Yebo, you know me very well baba, my surname is Mkhize”.
Old man: “Oh, Eyi wena mfana why did you not just say that. You are Khabazela’s grandson, your father is his first born Gubhela. You are Themba, the one who went overseas on a Maths Olympiad a year ago. I know your family very well. We were herd boys with uKhabazela your grandfather. We called him uMashesha because he was very good at treating ailing animals. Your family has always been a very positive influence in this community. I am not at all surprised that you offered to help me.” Says the old man cheerfully.
- Interests, talents and values/ conscience
In the bible as we do in society today, we find numerous people identified by their interests and occupations. A sample of these is provided below:
Joseph the carpenter
Joseph the dreamer
Simon and Andrew the fishermen
Nimrod a mighty hunter
Abel, the keeper of sheep
- Values -What is important to me?
Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela are globally recognised largely for their life commitment to what was important to each one of them. They are today’s symbols of their different causes.
Because of their contribution, their identity transcended their derived identities into assignment identities.
- Life story
Each person has a life story. Our life stories are made up of the conditions, the places, the moments, the feelings that we experience and those that we observe. Therefore our stories are unique only to ourselves. They contribute into the making of unique individuals and thus enable us to make contributions and offer experiences unique only to ourselves.
Many people we have known have used their unique journey to interpret life and brought valuable insights and solutions to the lives of others. Those of us who condemn their life story, who regret their life experience, render useless what is potentially the most valuable and unique part of their identity.
Personal Development Assignment 1:
Using the learning points drawn from this session, identify yourself in terms of both the derived identity and the assignment identity in the space provided below:
Discussion 1: Self-concept unmasked
It is how we see ourselves that determines how we project ourselves to others. It is how we project ourselves that determines how others see us. It is how others see us that determine how they respond to us.
What is your reaction to the above observation?
Does the above observation unsettle you? Does it cause you to pause and ask yourself if it really could be that how others have treated you is indeed a direct result of how you have projected yourself to them? Could it be that this one thing determines how people address you, what people expect of you and what respect people give you?
It is my experience that YES is the answer to all the above questions. This is why self-concept is such an important starting point towards excelling in life.
Unless we exude excellence and continuously enhance our capacity to be exceptional, we can quit the idea that anybody else will see it in us. Like in many things, we have a choice to project the mediocre version of ourselves that is characterised by self-doubt, fear, lack of courage, self-pity and a thousand excuses. The reason failure is so common could probably be attributed to the number of people that choose this lowly self-pity route.
Remember how much you achieved before you discovered your limitations?
Have you posed to think how you excelled at every challenge before you created and nurtured the poor version of yourself? Did I just say that? Indeed I just did. I just said, before you created and nurtured the mediocrity.
Let’s go back to the time before you knew fear. Do you remember how you would try anything, how you would touch anything, how you would raise your hand for any adventure. There was a time when many of us would confidently sing out loud without much concern about being judged. Many of us joined athletics because we wanted to and did not pause to ask if we were capable.
Even today, the things we turned out good at are both those that we are talented in doing as well as those that we have taken interest and put in the required effort to do them competently.
Some of the most challenging and sometimes painful learning experiences we have overcome were achieved through the belief in our ability to succeed despite the evidence provided by experience. Think of a baby learning to sit up, crawl, stand, walk and speak. Think of a toddler learning to feed himself, to ride his first bicycle or to write. All these accomplishments require that what you know about your ability to succeed exceeds the moment to moment evidence of failure.
Perhaps one of the reasons for failure is finding effort required to succeed too embarrassing and allowing single moments of failure to define who we are. Even worse, when we “un-discover” that failure is and has been the necessary route to success in all the things we have been able to do. It seems that we were once smart enough to know that avoiding failure by non-action is the worst form of cowardice.
Let’s perhaps share with you where we are going with this.
- People with a positive and well established self-concept are all too aware that it is seldom about them.
- A person with a positive self-image is never defined by the experiences in a single moment but by the reason for those experiences.
- Positive self-image is associated with knowledge that who we want to be is far more important that who our critics think we ought to be.
- People with a positive self-concept are as concerned about reputation as they are about integrity
The relevance of these concepts should be clearer as we continue with the process and the exercise herein.
Why should self-concept matter?
Well, we operate in a world where we do not want others to think less of us. Our need for the approval of others is perhaps natural. This is true even with total strangers. None of us ever wants to appear foolish even to people we have never met. When we fall, instead of dealing with the pain and waiting to be assisted up, we quickly get up and assure others we are fine even whilst in excruciating pain. This is perhaps evidence to our connectedness as the human race. This connectedness is central to our identity and self-concept.
John Donne captures the reason why all this should matter as is shown in our reflection box below.
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main John Donne