Identity Consciousness Pervades Our Times

By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Seems that when a line of thought enters my awareness, from then on I notice its appearance all over.  This has happened with the concept of ‘Identity’.  For our purposes identify is the image or idea of “Who I Am”.  Other people often attribute an identity to me, which may or may not match the idea I have about who I am.  It goes deeper than appearance because identity can drive my action, as I put my ideas of who I am into action.

It Keeps Turning Up!

I discovered that in randomly chosen reading from the last two months, identity has been a central theme, driving the action or as the background to it.  Canadian, American, British authors, fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapers.  It  seems that in Western cultures we’re faced with having to deal with who we think we are and the interaction between that sense of self and the impacts of our native cultures and those in which we now live.

This differs from the subject matter of earlier writing, which told tales, described events, noted character and behaviour, but took for granted that people were who they were.

I think this preoccupation with identity matches the historical times in which we’re sitting.

Embellishments to Simple Experience

In times and places where surplus food and goods were available for the population and all weren’t bent to the task of surviving, opportunities grew for imagining and producing items that weren’t purely functional.  There might always have been a class of artisans, in the workshops of great patrons, the lords and ladies, but from medieval times onward more and more ordinary people could participate in creation of style, fashion, decoration.   Embellishments on the natural world could become more part of everyday life.  A carver, when he finished making the cart or a table for the master, might now have time and materials to whittle a pretty bird for his mother to sit on the window sill.  Art slowly came to the masses.

Oops! Artifice Challenges the Status Quo

What difference would that make, apart from increasing the number of objects for women to dust and clean?  Some identify this as the introduction of ‘artifice’.  That’s a powerful term because it suggests a state of mind in which a human is permitted to improve on ordinary life.   Accepting all that is, and the way it looks, isn’t the only option.

But once it begins to seem normal to improve upon the bare realities of one’s existence, are we then stepping  away from acceptance of our lot?  If we become aware that there is more, or different, or improved objects or circumstances, do we not then become more critical of how things are and consider maybe changing something in our environment?  Not everyone, but those with capacity and energy left  over after a hard day’s work might be the ones to start putting out more questions about how to improve things.

But this gets the poor old human into dangerous territory.  Questioning creates conflict.  Non-acceptance, in a seriously religious culture such as existed in Europe, is a form of challenging God.  More safe to keep your head down and stick with the familiar. Becoming different from one’s base of safety – family, church, neighbourhood, village –can leave you out there, on your own.

But as the centuries have passed, in Western cultures (I can’t speak for others) change has been embraced as a fact of life.  It is considered normal for the young to question whether this is all there is.  Young adults strike out with all their questions and criticisms and create a life that they hope will be an improvement on the state of the child in the home.  They hope to become the person they want to be, if they can figure out who that is.

I think there’s a direct line from a society’s production of surplus to the common quest for an adult identity that requires some attention.

Other Movements Leading Toward Identify Consciousness

Many other societal changes have led us toward being conscious of becoming who we believe ourselves to be.

  1. In Canada at this time, encounters between different cultures is accelerated beyond what has occurred in any place or time in the world’s history.
  2. Technology brings changes we’re only beginning to understand.  One new dichotomy is between the technologically adept and those who are not at home in the cyberworld .   Computer technology itself raises one issue after another – for instance, see in June 16th Toronto Star, “Privacy, the self and human relationships” by Don Tapscott.–privacy-the-self-and-human-relationships   Access to information and to other’s opinions makes for daily communication beyond any method previously existing and may open us to new insights about who we are.
  3. The development of the study of the psyche opens another big door to identity consciousness Psychotropic drugs, used by thousands of Canadians, are altering the daily experience of the users, simply by removing impediments to encountering reality with comfort and capability.
  4. Approval of individual expression in childhood is relatively new.  In many families children are invited to make choices about what they will eat, what clothes they’ll wear, what their room will look like, what the family leisure activities will be.   Persistent individuality within a consumer culture is fostered.
  5. Permission to explore gender identity has hardly ever been more enabled.
  6. 6.       Possibilities of travel, of learning, of new kinds of work exist.

I’ve hardly covered all the forces pushing us toward being conscious of Who We Are.

But I want to spend more time on this exploration – and I hope you’ll let me know through Comments when you’ve had enough OR if you have thoughts to add on the topic.



Filed under A Bigger Circle, Rosemary's entries

2 responses to “CONSTRUCTING A SELF , First In a Series

  1. Juanita Rathbun

    I have just read Tapscott’s article where he talks about privacy. I agree that we are all social beings who need to be with people. But I also agree that we need times to be alone with our thoughts without being influenced by others around us. As a widow, I have pleanty of time to be alone but I do access the Internet on a regular basis to correspond with my family and friends by email. I have been less anxious to join the Facebook and Twitter crowd because it seems more open to the world , somehow.
    I read a lot of books both in the silence of my home. I also carry at least two or three books with me in the car to read as I park near different bodies of water – Lake Gibson, Port Dalhousie, the Welland Recreational waterway – all places where I can watch nature and bask in the soothing qualities of moving water. After a short period of time enjoying this “solitude” I find that I must seek the company of others. I organize my activities to include book groups, discussion groups, choirs, reunions with colleagues, lunch with a friend. So I am a good example of a person needing to guard my privacy by being alone and one who needs to be with people to maintain my contact with the world through interacting with my family and friends on a regular basis.

  2. I saw a program that showed women in Africa and India who had decorated their mud houses with geometric designs….cause they needed an outlet for their creativity. I got what they were doing cause I had done it as a child on the farm, mud pies, decorated with dried corn. I thought they were great.
    I believe that the desire to create something of beauty (even if it’s only in our own eyes) is innate and God given. When I create art I go into a different sort of time. It feels Holy. When I come out and look at the creation I have a wonderful sense of fulfillment….until I become critical of my work and sometimes remake it….til it feels right. Then I sigh and put it out to be sold. To me the act of creation focus’s me. It quite literally makes an invisible wall of privacy in which I work. Everything and everyone disappears. I find that intense concentration if often seen in children as they play even in a room full of jumping, laughing, screaming kids, they have their own space. I think a Holy place. That has been my experience and am eager to get back there.

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