What does the New Year bring you? Which Greek god are you? Which Star Wars villain are you? What character from classic literature are you? What state should you live in? These are all Polls that I’ve seen on Facebook at one time or another. They can be an interesting diversion for five minutes but why do we see so many pop up on our news-feed? They show up because they are popular and people take them regularly. But why?
Identity is something that is extremely important to people. We want to know who we are and be sure that others see us that way. One of the most difficult periods of a person’s life is often called an “identity crisis”. People realize that they are no longer what they once were. This can result in major life upheaval. Consistency in identity is extremely important to most of us.
One of the best examples that I have of this is my cousin Kerry. He is a distance runner, exercise enthusiast and pretty strict about his diet. Despite all of his healthful choices, he had used chewing tobacco since he was in college. The chewing tobacco was a long standing habit, even longer than the running and exercising. Kerry knew it was bad for him and had tried to quit it several times but the bad habit persisted until I made an random comment to him. “If you’re the ‘fitness guy’, then why do you still dip?” That question changed everything. In order to keep in line with his identity, he had to quit tobacco and he did. His identity was being questioned by someone else and therefore he had to decide who he really was.
The thing that scares me about the FB polls and online forums is that we seem to be looking for others to define us. “Tell me who I am because I don’t know.” As a teacher, I see this too often with my students. Clothes, hair, opinions, and everything else seems to change with the whims of what is popular. With the echo chamber of the internet, it exponentially increases the scenario of the blind leading the blind. The way to know if you’re doing the right thing is if everyone else is doing the same or at least someone famous. At least if you’re following the crowd, it’s someone else’s fault. No it’s not, you DECIDED to follow.
Rather than following the crowd or having Facebook or even Webster’s Dictionary define you, do it yourself. Go to a quiet space with a pen and a paper. Write down who you are. Or even better, write down who you want to be, in every area. Physically, mentally, emotionally and etc. Feel free to get input from trusted people but don’t ask random people walking down the street. Even this paper will not be the end of it. Your identity is work in progress just like your life. Examine both and define them with your own terms.