My current fascinations: biochemicals, identity, live PageRanking of people through trust, minimum viable constructs for organizations, differentiation as a way out of the rat race, and always always, love, time and death.
The word 'identity' often gets the eyes-glazed-over look. There's this boringness to it, like obviously you're Asian and female. Duh.
Identity has always been about what is different and significant - you refer to me as Asian and female because that's what makes me different from other people you might be describing. Otherwise, how would they know which is me and it would all be a waste of breath.
But I don't understand what most people call identity. Morning breaks the day after I’m born, and I am of a sex, age, genotype. I have hair color, eye color, ethnicity, some say IQ and sexual preference as well. This initial draft is written, and I stand in the corner, watch the parade go by, and can truthfully say I had nothing to do with it, even though I am all of it.
Proud? That’s a strange question. It’s like asking if I’m proud the asphalt is gray, the sun is shining. I had nothing to do with it. It’s a shame that the elements that can be readily understood, seen from the outside, transferred in ink and byte, are these random happenstances. These weren't my choices. This is not me. These were the cards I was dealt, not the game I played. I’d be proud if I accurately read the iPod-eared, sunglass-wearing bald guy across the green felt of a Texas no limit game, if I built credibility as a tool and wielded it as a scalpel, and won a round I shouldn’t have. But I wouldn’t brag about my pocket aces. That's the mark of a bad player.
It’s both strange and not strange that identity has always been about how we are different. We’re designed to notice differences, movement, color, designed to use our scarce attention to make choices for survival. Something in our biology demands that we compete, and since it’s hard to compete against identical clones, we jostle with everyone else to be different. And sometimes throw elbows.
We are impelled by evolutionary logic: scarce expensive pregnancy and plentiful sperm. As a result, women are reluctant and men are eager. Historically, men have had a narrower set of criteria in what they look for – does your facial symmetry indicate strong genes and does your body type suggest child-bearing health, i.e. small waist, large breasts. The limited dimensions of competition created a certain kind of competitive intensity among women. We ask for more loyalty from our friends than men do, and tend to give more loyalty in return. Men are actually more competitive with each other - evidenced by the rate of homicide among young unmarried men - but are also more likely to forgive disloyalty from their buddies, possibly because it offers them useful information about their potential mate. In both genders, the evolutionary compulsion to compete ends up driving many of our decisions - from buying a BMW to picking fights at bars to getting a tattoo to taking a job we hate for the money.
We human beings are highly adaptable, however, and the cultural shift of the past 100 years offers the hope that we may be able to exit this execrable rat race, slowly and over time.
Suppose we could exit this and all the other symptoms of the status syndrome. Hop off the ladder to nowhere. Where does that leave us? Lost, bland, homogenously vanilla? Standing on the same crowded step? Perhaps it’s time to recognize that we don’t have to try to be different. We are already uniquely different by nature of our individual starting points and singular journeys, genetic and experiential. It is intrinsic to us.
But unfortunately the ways in which we are intrinsically different are not obvious to the naked eye. The problem is marketing. Not advertising, but high-integrity communication in mostly non-verbal form. We every day have opportunities to say, without necessarily speaking: “This is who I am.” Identity rather than status, including but beyond outfit and music selection, from the moment we walk through the door. The small, the daily, the trivial, they all reflect the larger who-we-are. They are choices and because they are choices and we willed them to be, they become us, all of them, every last bit. There is a divinity in our choosings.
We carve our lives with these choices, and we create footholds, affordances for others. 'Affordances' is a term used in psychology, the quality of something that allows another to perform an action. I think of it as those little protuberances and tiny holes in Legos, that allow pieces to be joined together. And I wonder: Is it possible to shape our individual affordances to match us to the optimum (for us) friends, spouse, career and life?
My dream is to get to a place where we are rock-solid in the validity of our differences and not jostling for space. We’ll know we have gotten here when we are consistently generous in thought and deed to people both like and unlike us, and ourselves as well. Without envy or spite or even a moment's discomfit or squeak. Sigh. A utopia? If you wanted everyone to behave like this, maybe. But we have vast, immeasurable degrees of freedom over the shaping of our own selves. By and large, we get to decide. We don’t seem to use this power very much and it’s tragic.
Oh, and identity? I’d like identity to be more than difference. Of all the things that I am, what I’m most proud of is my humanity, and the choices that become me. I wake up every morning and I work at it, to be more human, to move further away from child-animal, to see myself in other people and act accordingly. I know I’ll never achieve full humanity (and knowing myself, it would maybe be a Mother Teresa tragicomedy if I did) but I work at it every day, when I haven’t gotten much sleep, when the world grates on me like nails on blackboard, when my mother calls me to nag, and I fail and I fail and I get closer. From ten thousand feet high, we all look the same. We have the same motivations, wants, needs, the same things drive us. If you compare us to the universe of all, we look virtually identical. Can we all share our identities, overlap in our humanity? Are we breaking the meaning of the word? Well, why not....I suppose we did make it up in the first place.