Who are you?
What defines you?
How to you identify yourself?
You are probably like me in that I am many things to many people. To my kids I am “mother”. To my husband I am “wife”. To my parents I am “daughter”, and to my brothers I am “big sister”. To my band I am “conductor” and to my church family I am “music leader, cook, reader, prayer leader….” and so on. I fulfil many roles to many different people, but what about who I am to myself?
I have often said that if you were to cut me in half I would bleed crotchets and quavers and music would run out of me like a river. I identify myself as a musician.
So what happens when the thing that identifies you gets stripped away? Do you stop being you? Or does something else happen?
If you ask a woman who has lost her husband that question, she will probably tell you she still identifies herself by the relationship she has had with him, which would probably be different to the way a divorcee would answer it. A parent who loses a child would still identify themselves as a parent, wouldn’t they? As would anyone who loses a parent – whatever age they are when that loss happens, they would still identify themselves as a son or a daughter.
So we can safely say that if we identify ourselves by the relationships we hold in our lives we are pretty secure in our identification.
But what about the other things that identify us? The man who identifies himself as a salesman, or a carpenter? Or the woman who identifies herself as a dancer or a florist? What about the artist, the musician, the cook, or the doctor? If something catastrophic happened in their lives that stripped them of their abilities in that field, would they still identify themselves in such a way?
How would you feel if it happened to you?
It happened to me, so I have an idea. It happened about 3 years ago and I lost my identity as Pam the cornet player, Pam the soloist, Pam the principal cornet of Middleton Band. I lost friends, my social life, my creative outlet and the opportunity to make music and entertain people. As the same time as all that, I lost my identity in the job market. I lost my identity as first-aider and confidante to teenagers at school, and I lost my functionality and capability to earn money.
How did it make me feel?
To be honest I was devastated at first. I had never felt so naked, so bare, so alone and so useless. What I thought of as my main identification points were unceremoniously taken away from me, and I felt as if the sense of “me” had been robbed. It took a while for the initial shocked numbness and pain to settle down, but when it did I realised that actually, underneath it, I was still pretty much intact. OK, I couldn’t perform music any more, but I was still a musician. I had lost my job in the school but my skills were still all there. I had lost people out of my life who I had thought were friends, but there were people standing by me who had been there all along and I hadn’t seen them through the previous chaos of my life. They are still there and my life has been enriched by them.
I recovered from the devastation by basically rebuilding myself. I turned from playing a musical instrument to conducting the whole band. I converted my admin and audio typing skills into something that I could earn money from by transcribing interviews and business speeches. I used my increased time in the house to learn and develop a new skill – crocheting (which I have also earned money from). My stressed life as a working wife and mother has given way to a relaxed (albeit cash-strapped) life as a housewife/home-maker and mother who has had proper time to look after her kids better, to be there to listen to them and talk to them at the end of the school day, to cook healthier meals for them, to provide regular clean laundry… all those things that I was too busy, stressed and tired to do with them and for them before. In short, our lives are happier and our family life is more loving and supportive than it ever has been, I’ve learned new practical skills and I’ve developed old coping strategy skills. I’ve discovered new friendships and I’ve developed relationships with people I’ve known all my life which has only become established and strengthened once my old identities had been shed.
That’s all on a personal level, but what about the bigger picture? What about institutions or establishments – nations – that have had their identities destroyed? Can the same be said for them?
To answer that, let’s have a look at the world’s economy at the moment. We have countries who if they were individual people would be out on the streets because they have no money to pay their bills and their credit rating was less than zero. We have banks who are built on complete houses of cards with money being passed around and inflated between banks so that it looks much bigger than it really is. We have seen the collapse of huge banks round the world because their layers of cards have come tumbling down underneath them. Here in the UK we are looking at the public collapse of one of the nation’s entertainment pillars. My childhood was dominated by this figure on TV, in charity events, in the news for his good deeds etc and now, a year after his death we are learning of his systematic sexual abuse of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. As a consequence of these horrific revelations another of our establishment “pillars” is looking at an uncertain future too.
The BBC has been rocked by the Jimmy Savile scandal, but in addition to all that, their flagship journalistic programme, “Newsnight”, has been at the centre of controversy regarding dubious “revelations” regarding senior politicians. The BBC identifies itself as being a quality organisation with top class journalists, broadcasters and entertainers producing world-class output. So what will happen to it now that those very qualities that it identifies itself with are called into question and could potentially be destroyed?
We know what has happened with the banks; they have been forced to pay back millions of pounds that they have wrongly charged their customers for years and years, their management structure has changed and what was once identified as being an “honourable” profession is now viewed as being almost as bad as being an estate agent (no offence to estate agents!).
I won’t go into the News Corp situation here, but we all know what has happened to the press, certainly here in the UK. The collapse of the News of the World has led to changes in the way we are allowed to express ourselves, and although the final judgement has yet to be delivered the ramifications from the phone hacking scandal are going to be massive and will change the face of our media for ever.
So what if it’s even bigger than that? What about nations?
Greece has seen a massive implosion of its economy, and a huge proportion of its population are in dire straits with the effects of the austerity measures driving them deep into poverty. Greece has yet to rebuild itself, but it will be interesting to see how their government style changes and to see how the situation is going to resolve itself.
They could perhaps take a leaf out of the people of New York’s book. I think it’s fair to say that a large part of the New York identity was tied up with the World Trade Center. Their identity was catastrophically demolished by the attacks on the Twin Towers, yet New Yorkers have rebuilt themselves and have changed in the face of that devastating event. Look at how people pulled together to look after each other in the aftermath of the super-storm Sandy.
There is an unresolved historical war in the Middle East between people whose identities are hugely tied up with the land their fathers and forefathers occupied. Unfortunately it was the same piece of land and neither side are willing to give way to the other. I don’t fully understand the situation and the background so I can’t say any more about it other than to comment that when it comes to identity, to some people it can really be a matter of life or death.
I’ll leave you with the thought that no matter what happens to me in the future, whether I remain a wife, a mother, a leader of prayers at church, a friend to lots of people, a cousin, a “blibling” (a blogging sibling), a musician, a crafty lady or whatever, the one identity that will never change is the one that identifies me as a child of God.
Tell me who you are.