The Importance of Having A Sense of Identity

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I was looking through pictures from the Cavaliers championship parade and rally in downtown Cleveland, and after seeing 1.3 million people jammed like sardines in the city, I wondered something. What is it about sports that is so powerful? Why is this such a magical moment for the Cavaliers and a celebration of the city of Cleveland itself? Why did my usually calm and reserved father give me the biggest hug with tears streaming down his face after the clock hit zero in game 7 of the 2016 NBA finals?

Why are documentaries made about the effects of sports teams’ heartbreaking failures on everyday life in a city and the people that live in it?

When I ask, “how would you describe yourself?” most people would respond with something that can be seen from a driver’s license or a medical record. In today’s world it is very common to identify oneself with at least one or more physical, unbiased concrete descriptors such as one’s ethnicity, nationality, race, or religion, for example. Many people still grapple with the notion of identity in many countries, regions, and various ways in order to fit or adapt into any environment (social, economic, cultural, political, etc).

 

In reality, the contemporary way we identify ourselves is much more abstract- the things we like to do, our likes/dislikes, what kind of humor we have. These manmade characteristics we give ourselves influences style of clothes we wear, things we like to do, music we listen to, so on and so forth. For example, if we tend to self identify as a spiritual, open-minded nature-loving hippie, we might wear colorful clothing and accessories, prefer spending time outdoors and educate ourselves on how the human mind works, and the intricacies of social interaction. If you regard yourself as an intellectual, you may have glasses and be found in a book 24/7… You get my point. That is why broad generalizations of “nerds” “jocks” “goths” and “stoners” exist, just to name a few. They tend to look, act, and talk the same sort of way. Is anyone forcing them to act this way? Of course not!

Having an identity of “self” is a crucial part of establishing one’s happiness, satisfaction and sense of fulfillment. A lot of us looked to the college experience as a time to find ourselves and discover our identity after leaving our parents’ nest for the first significant time in our lives. We experiment and try new things, meet new people, and see what sticks.

Simply put, the culmination of what we like/dislike- including our political views, sports teams we’re fans of, stance on religion, drugs and other social issues, is our identity, and when those things get attacked, made fun of, lose or are proved wrong we view them as part of ourselves, and that piece of us goes down with them. That is why I believe we get so passionate and fired up about things like Donald Trump, the World Cup, religion, hell even what type of pizza tastes better. We want these things we identify with to be successful and accurate because that confirms the things we believe in to be true. I think that as humans we have an instinctual hard-wired need to belong to a community or group. We like being around people that think like us, we like having a place we can call home, a hobby or interest that groups us with other like-minded people. And that’s not to say that we do not also have a need for adventure and stepping outside of our comfort zone into what is unfamiliar, but I believe everyone has an intrinsic need to have beliefs, thoughts, morals, ideals, hobbies, or even the concept of home- that makes them who they are and gives them a sense of belonging. Deep down inside us, a part of us doesn’t want to go it alone.

When we lose our sense of identity, we lose the most tangible thing that puts us in touch with ourselves

 Why Am I Writing This?

 I challenge you, beg you even, to search deep inside you and think about what your identity is. How would you describe yourself? What are the beliefs and values you truly hold? What is your personality type? What kinds of things occupy your free time? There are truly no wrong answers here. It seems like such a simple question, but I argue that it’s one of the most important things to reflect on, and something that you should reflect upon yourself. Getting a solid foundation of your identity is the key that unlocks the door of endless directions you can go in. It is a source of pride, as we want to show the world how great the things we’re interested in are. It can help point you in the direction of a future career, meet similar, like-minded and compatible friends, or most importantly give you a foundation for your entire existence in relation to the world around you. Most importantly, find something that you can center your identity around. We have a fundamental need to know just whom exactly we are, in order to know where we belong in the world. I think most of us can handle a change in our sense of who we are – it’s when that causes us to not quite know where we fit, when we’re lost, that gives us such a hard time.

You see, even the most independent people need a sense of community. That is why I believe religion, political beliefs, sports allegiances, etc is so incredibly popular around the world and millions of people are so invested that they will wage wars over it. It’s why the Jews wanted so much for their Holy Land in Israel. It is why Scotland fought so hard to separate from England. It’s why two futbol teams from the same city hate each other’s guts. It’s why this deranged Newcastle soccer fan punched a police horse. They create a sense of togetherness and identity that transcends over the actual things themselves.

Our identity is based on who we are, who we’ve been, and who we think we will become. But the past is gone, and the future does not exist yet. Therefore most of our identity is a manmade illusion, which is easily molded and shaped by major life events, beliefs of those closest around us, and what we experience through television, music, and our social interactions, predominately through college. It is what separates us from animals and makes us healthy, functioning humans with free will.

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