Today I was looking at a project that a friend's child recently completed. It was one of those 6th grade self-examination exercises that requires that you look backwards by doing a genealogy and a family tree and ahead by dreaming of what you want to be along with research on the alternative chosen. For this mother - a single mother with three children - it was a major hassle. She just wants her kids to grow up enough so that she can go to the bathroom by herself. But as I was looking over it...it did get me to thinking about my life.
I believe that most of us identify ourselves by a few common parameters, and in ways that we don't really even think about anymore. Our gender, race, age, religious beliefs, political affiliation and where we live define us. We may be color-blind with regard to race, not speak of politics and religion, or be transplanted from somewhere else, but a lot of our framework just is what it is. Other parameters might include how much money we make, our sexual orientation, what we do, where we went to college, who our family was or is, the size of the town we grew up in, our interests, and so on.
What is odd is that sometimes the way we define ourselves is not the way other people primarily view us. It is a really tricky thing to realize that sometimes people think of us as outgoing when we think we're shy, or that people think that we are stuck up when we just feel out of place. In other words, we see ourselves as one thing and other people are nearly knocked down by something else entirely.
I've seen some of the most rabid college football fans alive that are actually people who have never set foot on the campus as a student. But somewhere along the way, they identified with the team, and now it is second nature. I've also seen people who grew up in less than ideal circumstances that studied and worked hard and made something extraordinary out of themselves. I've also watched people with every advantage and a loving family end up on the sidelines of life because they couldn't overcome their own fears to break out enough to live up to their potential.
Thinking about the exercise, though, I thought about who I am...and this is what I came up with in the initial pass. It isn't a comprehensive list, but it does pretty much hit the high points...
I am...politically conservative. To understand why this is so, you would have to understand that I am more attracted to the concept of personal responsibility than I am to being fair. I have come to realize that life is not fair, and frankly...it never will be. I believe in giving people a hand up...but I expect the church and charitable organizations to fix some of the ills of society instead of government. Help? Yes. Dependency? No.
I am...a Christian. This means that I am a Christ follower. It also means that everything I do wrong is magnified in the eyes of others because some people are under the impression that being a Christian means that I am suddenly perfect. No, it just means that I know what perfect looks like...and I now have a template to shoot for.
I am...married and a mother. That doesn't make me better than other people, nor does it convince me that this role is for everyone. It isn't. I am in the season of life where some days when as a mother...I feel very unappreciated...but I understand that this is normal. As I cannot imagine my life any other way anymore...I am happy.
I am...a woman. I have survived discrimination and have been passed over for promotions along the way. I didn't sue anyone...I just kept working. I've long since gotten over it...yet I can empathize with other women. I banned teen magazines at my home because I didn't want my daughter to believe that she didn't measure up to the airbrushed versions of stick figures that were contained on the pages within. Having bought that particular lie and destroying my metabolism in the process...I didn't want a sequel to that living under my roof.
I am...a Southerner. I certainly like people from other places, but I just feel especially blessed to live where I do. Granted, I whine when it is hot as Hades here in the summer, but I like that most people here are among the finest people on the planet. Plus, you can't beat the beaches.
I am...overweight. This means that I am not going to look good in 90% of what I'd like to wear, I have to worry about my health, and chairs sometimes scare me. Reunions and formal occasions are remarkably challenging and I worry that I embarrass my family. But I am also 46 years old and it is highly unlikely that I'm going to be the size I was in high school ever again. And I'm okay with that.
All in all...we all have many descriptors that tell other people who we are. Some people will know that they are part of our tribe, and others will feel like foreigners in our presence. The truth is that many of us accept differences and assume that others will give us the same latitude. We just need to understand that this is not always the case.
Identity...it is partly a function of factors that we cannot control and partly a function of factors that we can. It is who we know ourselves to be and who other people perceive that we are. But it is what it is...although it can change overnight...and sometimes does. I just hope that one day when I cross someone's mind...they will identify me as a good friend and a relatively content person. That's what I'm shooting for anyway...