Sunday, May 8, 2011

Identity, part 2

Wow. I didn't really know what to expect with yesterday's post. And, as Steve so wisely pointed out, I missed putting "nationality" on the list.

So, how do I identify myself? (I mean, besides getting out my driver's license.)

First and foremost, I think of myself as a spiritual being. (I know, I know. You think I'm cheating because that wasn't on yesterday's list. Sorry about that, but that leads into me thinking about being a human being.)

Second, I think of myself as a human being. (See?)

My rationale for that is human beings are, by definition, spiritual beings first and physical beings second. It is kind of like the various kingdoms of creation that 'Abdu'l-Baha spoke about. Yes, we are composed from the mineral kingdom, but that is not what distinguishes us from a rock. And yes, we grow like the vegetable kingdom, but this is not what distinguishes us from the rutabaga. Sure we have senses, but this does not distinguish us from the platypus. What makes us unique from all these others is the fact that we have a soul. (Oh, and don't forget that saying this does not mean that I think animals are without virtue. Click here to read my view on that.) We belong to the human kingdom, which is within the animal kingdom, which is within the vegetable kingdom, which is within the mineral kingdom, and so forth. Which one has the greatest sense of identity? The human kingdom. But that does not negate the importance of the others.

So, first I see myself as a spiritual being, and then as a human.

Next, I see myself as a Baha'i. Why? Because it impacts all the other aspects that follow. All of the others are subsumed within the context of being Baha'i.

How? Well, I realize that my ethnic group is only one facet of the human race, no better and no worse than any other ethnic group. My national group is seen through the Baha'i lens as being a part of the reality that "The earth is but one country..."

Where does my gender fit into it? As 'Abdu'l-Baha said, "In the estimation of God there is no gender."

Family? Well, family is one of God's greatest gifts to me, to each and every one of us. It is very high in what I consider important to my life, but it is not how I go about labelling myself. Baha'u'llah said to Edward Granville Browne that "all men (should) be as one kindred and one family".

Hobbies? Career? These change too often to be a significant part of my own identity.

But why I am I even looking at any of this? How important is it, really, to be aware of how one labels oneself? As usual, I'm not really sure, but this is just own opinion, so there.

I have met a few people who really based their entire identity on their career. One friend was in the military, and this formed and shaped his whole self-identity. What happened when he retired? His identity was effectively stripped away. It is no surprise to me that so many military people die within a few short years of retirement. In a very real sense, they feel they have nothing to live for.

I can think of a few women I know who based their entire self-identity on being a mother. Now don't get me wrong. I think being a parent is a wonderful thing, but when their children grew up and moved out, there was a serious identity crisis that occurred.

Aside - I remember the flak one rabbi got for saying that the parents relationship with each other was more important than their relationship with their children. He said, and I agree wholeheartedly with him, that the strength of the relationship between the parents strongly impacts how the children are raised. If the parents are at each other's throats, then the children will be severely affected by this. If their relationship is strong and healthy, then they truly become that "fortress of well-being and salvation", and their children can grow up much healthier.

Nationality can change, as can place of residence, so identification with my neighbourhood is really secondary.

If you identify yourself as an alcoholic, or as a cancer survivor, then you are attaching great importance to an illness. Oh, and it's not to say that these are not important things to acknowledge and deal with, but just that I don't think they should be the centre of my own identity. Focussing on health and well-being seems to be much more effective to my living a lealthy life.

If I were to identify myself with my sexuality, then what would happen if I got into an accident and became paralyzed? I prefer to look at my relationship with my wife not based on our sexuality, but on how we compliment each other's spirituality. This is adding strength to strength and can never be taken away.

Steve, in a comment on the last article, said something very profound: "If you are forced to choose between two identities, choose the one that doesn't exclude the other."

And so, aside from my identity as a spiritual human being, and a Baha'i, everything else is of secondary importance.

I would also add in a very Buddhistic thought that my wife shared with me regarding this whole issue: Beware of identity. Be aware of what you choose, for it may not suit you forever, and it does not define who you really are.

And it all comes down to that last, doesn't it? Be aware of yourself. Be aware of your choices. Be aware of your actions.

Isn't that what all the Messengers of God have told us throughout the ages?

Be aware of yourself. And be aware of who you really are. Everything else will fall into place after that.

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