Identity Crisis

“I’m proud of my heritage.”

“I’m proud to be (insert race, gender, nationality here).”

Have you ever heard those types of statements before?  Most likely you have. In fact, most of us have not only heard them, we’ve probably uttered them ourselves.  

They sound like good sentiments as many would argue that we should be proud of our personal attributes, who we are, and what elements help define us.  But should we always “take pride” in such uncontrollable and arbitrary elements of our lives?  After all, we really didn’t do anything to obtain them -- we were all born and we came out the way we came out.  We had zero control over coming out any particular race or gender.  We didn’t even pick the period of time we were born into or the location in the world or the socioeconomic status.  It all just happened to us.  

We were born and as we grew older we learned the circumstances in which we were born into.  To take pride in such randomness makes about as much sense as taking pride in the fact that the sun shines on us or that I rolled some dice and got whatever number turned up.

And if we do take pride in such things, are we also prepared to take shame in all the negative attributes of our histories that we had an equal lack of control in creating?  And will we also look upon others born just as randomly into their circumstances and hold them accountable for heritages?  

While it's undeniable that the random circumstances surrounding our births can and do play large roles in how we interact with the world around us and how that world interacts with us, it does not make that inheritance any less random, or the person receiving that inheritance a better or worse person.  

At some point it is going to behoove us socially to begin seeing the actions of people as just that--actions of specific individuals, testaments to them personally.  For to see others, including ourselves, as the manifestation of the decisions and actions of the past, blinds us to fully appreciating and experiencing the unique individual before us.  And sometimes, that unique individual before us might be the one in the mirror. Sometimes we can be just as bad at labeling ourselves as we are of others, feeling forced into the mold in which we think we are destined to conform.  

In recent years we have had two high profile emergency landings involving passenger planes.  One was a plane that struck a bird and landed in the Hudson River of New York.  While that pilot was praised for skill in landing the plane, another pilot who more recently landed a plane after the engine exploded and a passenger sucked part way out, was also praised for displaying coolness under pressure. But what was also highlighted was her gender.  Almost as much media attention was directed at the fact that the pilot was a woman as was directed to  her actual accomplishment of saving lives.  

While it is important to condemn the negatives of racial or gender prejudice, we must also be careful when enhancing the accomplishments due those same prejudices. Sometimes, as was the case with the female pilot, enhancing accomplishments can actually diminish the accomplishment itself.  

Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech and articulated his dream of a time when people would be judged, “...not by the color or their skin but by the content of their character.”  There was an emphasis to rate people based on the decisions they made and their own individual accomplishments.  If we are truly committed to being a society that shares value in his dream, then at some point we must move beyond the general generic labels that are applied to us randomly at birth as enhancing or detracting from individual accomplishments or failures.  Eventually, it may benefit us to take pride not in the random elements of who we were born as but the deliberate decisions and accomplishments that will determine who we die as.    



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