I’ve never really been much into politics. I was fortunate growing up on the Isle of Man, a small island in the British Isles with around 85,000 people. I lived within a stone’s throw of a beach and, for a lot of the time, we didn’t even lock our front door when we left the house. There was also a small feeling of seclusion from the rest of the world that I didn’t realize until I moved to the UK. You see the Isle of Man is a crown dependency and a tax haven. Which effectively means that the UK enacts a law and we decide whether to embrace it or not. We also pay very little tax because our economy works slightly differently to that of mainland UK. However, times have changed slightly and, as a British man living in the US, I can’t help see the political conflict both sides of the Atlantic. Now this is not a political article so I’m hoping that you haven’t been scared away by my previous paragraph. But it’s something that, for better or worse, is a huge part of our lives.
In the UK, Brexit has divided opinion much in the same way that Donald Trump’s presidency has divided opinion in the United States of America. Clashes between the left wing and the right wing have been well documented and, to be candid, sensationalized by the media. This, in turn, has almost acted as a recruiting station for individuals who share the belief systems of either party. However, I believe there is one central figure at the heart of all of this conflict and it’s a word that I’ve chosen to remove myself from: IDENTITY.
I first considered how this idea of identity effects our lives about 6 months ago and, after quite a bit of thought, I’ve concluded to myself that no good can come from it. I was watching the British news and there was a gentleman discussing the positives of Brexit and how stricter immigration laws will benefit the country. Amongst his arguments he stated that Britain was losing its identity. So, I took my notepad out and decided to write down a list of things that people love about Britain. I tried to be as objective as I could so that I could figure out to what identity this man was referring. I was originally going to explain my entire process here before coming to the conclusion that it wasn’t the British identity that was being challenged. It was his perspective of the British identity.
I never try to prove my own theories. In fact, when I get an idea, I typically actively try to disprove it so if it survives the analysis then I figure it must be decent. So, I considered a series of “I am…” statements that would indicate identity. You can see a snapshot of some of them below:
- A Runner
- A Team Player
- A Minimalist
- A Hard Worker
- A Writer
I deliberately picked a series of statements that would cover both personality traits and activities that could be considered inspirational and asked the question “How could this incredible thing ever be bad?” I think it comes from circumstance of opposition. This could be in the form of inability to follow through on your identity. If you’re a runner and you become injured to a point that you can never run again, have you lost your identity? If you identify as energetic does this then exclude you from having a lazy day on the sofa? If a right-wing person meets a left-wing person, can they have any kind of meaningful relationship or will their “identities” clash?
The challenge with identity is that it comes with rules and qualifications. In order to be identify as a certain thing, we must meet the criteria required. If we look at Christianity then we can look at the ten commandments as our criteria. If we identify as a writer then we must have a book published at least right? If we don’t meet these criteria then we are open to be challenged from the outside and that’s where the conflict occurs.
I was recently discussing how I’d become a minimalist with a friend who immediately called me out on it. He said “you have three monitors, two laptops and an Oculus Rift! You’re not a minimalist at all.” I realized my own fault for classing myself as a minimalist but I also realized that, by identifying myself as a certain thing, I also have to abide by the rules that other people place on the thing. Another friend of mine in the UK told me that he’d be successful when he’s made 1 million pounds sterling. So, what happens between now and then? Are you unsuccessful?
Judgement of others
In the UK, the current stigma attached to those who voted in favor of leave the EU are labelled as racist whereas the more liberal side are considered to be idealists that don’t care about their country. From this judgement comes conflict, hatred and, as a consequence, their own value systems are strengthened as they are forced to defend them. When the opposition attacks, you strengthen your walls, you don’t tear them down. So how can you find resolution from two sides of the wall? The options are simply victory or death.
Judgement of self
Speaking of death, I should add that the death involved is typically, but not always, metaphorical. The second consequence is the self-loathing that can occur when you fail to continuously meet the criteria of your identity. Have you ever heard of writer’s block? That anxious pressure of knowing that you’re a writer, you should be writing but you can’t think of what to write? And if you class yourself as a writer, but can no longer write, is that the death of yourself? You don’t need to feel that stress of identity. And, by removing it, you’re not avoiding it, you’re simply playing by your own ruleset rather than somebody else’s.
Now I don’t want to completely destroy the whole notion of identity without offering up an alternative. Because, if we didn’t embrace these traits that I’ve been discussing then there would be no creativity, diversity, resolution and, for want of a better word “spice” to life. But we need to embrace the qualities without being chained to the rules that govern those qualities. You don’t need to be a run, you can just run and you can combine being incredibly energetic with moments of sublime laziness. So, I wrote a few rules of my own with adding a “but” syntax:
I DO NOT IDENTIFY AS…
- A minimalist but I practice the aspects of minimalism that add value to me
- Religious but I practice the aspects of Buddhism that add value to me
- Left-wing but I embrace ideas of inclusivity and social equality
- Competitive but I will strive to continuously improve my skill
- Fearless but I can be brave in the face of fear
- A writer but I love to write and it gives me great pleasure
This is all about removing the pressure whilst maintaining the thing itself. Remember that you don’t have to be a runner in order to run.