The answer to the question, “who am I?” is always changing depending on who is involved, where we are, what is it that we are discussing or doing. When someone asks me “who are you?” depending on the context, the reply varies from, “I’m a student” to “I’m a sister.” The term identity encompasses the following characteristics as derived from the Collins English Dictionary (2010): the state of having unique identifying characteristics held by no other person or thing, the individual characteristics by which a person or thing is recognized.
We are all wearing masks that are always coming on and off. These masks or roles define our identity. As a result one’s identity is always changing depending on many factors. Instead of a singular and fixed identity, Michel Foucault, a French philosopher and social theorist, believed that a person wears multiple masks and performs identities in diverse and complex ways. When one mask is removed, rather than the discovery of the true or real identity, there are always other masks, other identities, shaped and maintained by deviating practices. Whether it is laying in bed at the end of the day and reflecting on how the day went or waking up in the morning and observing a few minutes of silence, we all have the ability to self-reflect. However, as human beings we try to avoid struggle. Technology dependant and schedule orientated lifestyles have become the norm.
From a very young age we are forced to answer the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” While trying to figure out the answer we juggle between academic and extracurricular activities. With the help of these and the influence of our friends and mainly our families we formulate our answer to that question. Driven by consumerism and capitalism we invest in ourselves through education and buying insurance policies, but rarely do we try to stay with our real mask on at all times. Instead trying to figure out our real identity, we find it easier to put on a mask painted by society for our pretend happiness.
Trying to figure out yourself does not have to be a complicated process. It can be as simple as being aware and conscious of thoughts and actions. Or to know the difference between right and wrong and take a stand when required. All of these are lost thanks to our smartphone screens and in trying to keep up with society’s superficial expectations such as shopping from a specific branded store. We all know that identity is not a fixed attribute of a person. In this context, then, identity can also be seen as an answer to the recurrent question: ‘‘who am I at this moment?’’ This means that there can be a collapse or a rise of a particular trait at a specific time in our lives.
Change is important, no doubt, however when you end up changing yourself for whatever reason, that is the root of the problem. As I keep exploring factors that contribute to my identity, I realize that unconsciously there are many thoughts and actions which occur throughout the day that are part of my identity. Looking at everything on a daily basis through a spiritual perspective is an important part of my identity. Through this lens I feel I am able to understand the real meaning of ‘gratitude’ and ‘empathy.’ For example, every day I use the ideas of karma and realize the importance of detachment when things are going well or when they are not. Take a moment to answer the important questions in this article and figure out the colours of your dominant mask.