Reading + Identity

02022-01-02 | Uncategorized | 6 comments

In 2021 I read, and listened to forty books. I discovered a number of authors who ended up greatly moving the tectonic plates of my world view around. I was thankful for that. The last book, which I am taking into the new year with me, was “The Lies that Bind: Rethinking Identity”, by Kwame Anthony Appiah.
The book is a brilliant look at identity and how it is shaped by our culture, our education, our religion, and in fact by our own perception. Who are you and, more importantly, who do you want to be? Many European nations are younger than the USA. Germany and Italy became nations only in the 1900s. Two hundred years ago you might speak Italian or German but you were a citizen of the Austrian empire. Or, if you were born in the Alsace, for example, your father might have been born a Frenchman, your grandfather a German and your great grandfather a Frenchman.
What is your identity? Perhaps one should make an annual list of the ten identities that first spring to mind. I bet it would change from year to year as different identities come to the forefront and recede. A new parent might list father or mother as their very first identity, but twenty years later it might only make the second half of the list. You might have a new hobby and be so engrossed in it that is makes the top three of your list of identities… five years later it might not even be remembered.
This could be a good exercise to help us realize how fleeting and arbitrary identity is. It is certainly hardly worth fighting or killing somebody for.


  1. Steve

    I tried doing this exercise … not in a superficial way but really took it to heart and tried to do it … it’s more difficult than one might think … tricky.

    • ottmar

      I have made a few such lists and have discovered that one must write them quickly, because identities are fleeting like snowflakes on a warm day. If I wrote such a list every day I am convinced each one would probably be different.

  2. JaneParhamKatz

    Oddly, I can’t pinpoint any source of identity, in terms of people, cultures, or nations. I grew up with a small, small family: Mother, me, and one uncle and cousin living a thousand miles away. As an only child, I think I caught my identity from my own imagination, from beings of nature, and from music. My mother was sort of alien to this world; maybe she is my source of a free-wheeling identity. I don’t feel American, or of Welsh-English-German descent, I just feel like Jane. The closest I came to sourcing an identity for myself was my affiliation with NASA. Am I unaware – or just a stranger? (Thank you, Dr. Liebert!}

    • ottmar

      Perhaps you are overthinking this?
      How about:
      Piano player
      NASA person
      Only child

      See, it’s easy. And the fun of the exercise is that every time you make this list it will probably be different. No, not probably… it will be different.
      Sometimes I read an old list I made and I am surprised at what I included and what I left out.
      The takeaway is that there is no solid “I” at the bottom of our selves. There is no ground and our personality and identity is something that’s always changing, constantly shifting.

      • JaneParhamKatz

        I see now. I was trying to “feel” these identities as if they were something solid, rather than shifting. The identities you discussed are more surface and objective observations. Yes, I was trying to go too deep, looking for the “real” identity, which must be a purely spiritual idea like our connection to the source of Life and Love, or something like that. Then, I did have fun thinking of my shifting identities: bassoonist, writer, girlfriend, caregiver, homemaker, French speaker, Portuguese language student, secretary…. Now I can hardly stop! This is wonderful, Ottmar. Somehow it is encouraging, because I feel like more identities are yet ahead.

  3. Luna

    Re.reading this today, it is interesting for me because I have never liked labels, of any kind. Only used them to “fit in” the system, such as taking a test, filling out a questionnaire, answering someone’s question, etc. Identities represent labels to me.. But even when asked and answering logically, labels/identities have never felt “solid.” For example, many times we are asked our race. This has always felt like a dumb question to me, and I usually write outside the box, “Human.”
    Then looking at the other examples and comments.
    I pondered it. I don’t know that I have ever fully related to any identity unless I was focused on something I was being or doing at the time, and mostly that was to be able to relate to others in their belief system. Even as a child and teen, I remember a few instances where a parent would say something regarding the hierarchy of parent-child, and I would respond with something about being human requires respect from everyone no matter who you are. For me it feels external identities were/are mostly about relating to belief systems and fitting into “societal norms” versus just showing up Being fully Present as myself….which has seemed to baffle many in many things I’ve been and done because I didnt/don’t approach it the “usual way.”
    Im sure we are and will be many identities thru out our lives…and ultimately like you said (I haven’t read the book) these are always changing, dissolving back to just Being Present and alive in the moment……..without any label or identity.
    Thanks for a great topic and sharing.


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