When I was nine, my primary school teacher once asked us about our dreams in life, virtually every person in the class aspired to become a Priest, Pilot, Doctor, Lawyer or any of such high professions, as decided by our various families. No person desired farming, tailor or any insignificant profession in life. Contrary to some of our dreams, the most intelligent among us, is now a successful farmer, the class president; one of the most professional tailor in town. In all, most of us actualized our dreams while some felt frustrated. In our society, similar experiences are not strange, and the reasons are not “spiritual”. It is simply inability to realize one’s identity earlier in life.
Identity can be defined as a fairly stable sense of who you are that seems to be shared by the people in your life who are significant to you. If you examine this definition, you will see that it has both an internal or psychological aspect (“a fairly stable sense of who you are”) and an external or social aspect (“that seems to be shared by the people in your life who are significant to you”).
The psychosocial conception of identity is stressed here, because it is one of the most useful ways of calling your attention to an important fact about your development as a person. This further implies that you become who you are as a result of the interactions (both verbal and non-verbal) that takes place between yourself and the important people and key settings in your life. Although your identity is in a very real sense personal; it is not self created. Rather, it is the result of literally thousands of exchanges between yourself and the people you encounter during your lifetime; such as parents, siblings, teachers, peers and so on. Even Jesus Himself requested to know who people said he is. No wonder one of the ancient philosophers, Socrates opined that an unexamined life is not worth living.
Far more importantly, an extremely insightful analysis of the development of identity is not limited to knowing oneself alone. With reference to Marcia’s “Development and Validation of ego-identity status”, there are two critical signs that shed light on the status or condition of a person’s identity; they are Crisis and Commitment. Crisis refers to the experience of confusion and anxiety regarding important life choices that you face (for example career, value, and religious beliefs). Commitment refers to making stable choices in these areas of life. That is choices that establish the patterns of your life. It could be observed that everyone begins life by taking on the values, beliefs and behaviours of others without struggling through personal choices as to whether or not they “fit”. These were the dangers that I encountered with my peers at the age of nine. Since the values and decisions were not really ours, we could no acquire the depth of personal commitment required to actualize our dreams.
However, towards adulthood, most of us began to ask questions regarding the values that were given to us in childhood. By implication, we found ourselves in the process of struggling with decisions and coming to personal choices in critical areas, although we could not resolve them immediately. During this period, we struggled through a maze of alternative thoughts and values in an effort to define who we are in an autonomous sense. It was an exciting time but with a fare share of unpleasant moments of crisis.
At the final stage, some of the beliefs and values of our earlier life became strengthened and internalized, others took different forms and others discarded. It was then that some of us began to experience ourselves as persons with a fairly stable sense of who we are, and this sense of self was consistent with the messages that we receive from others concerning us. In other words, our individual identity was defined.
Against this backdrop, I stand tall to express the certainty that if you are in a state of crisis, struggling with decisions and coming to personal choices in critical areas, you are on the road to maturity and success. If you are overly comfortable and perhaps even smug in your life commitments and plans, this could be a sign that you haven’t faced the crisis of personal commitment. Then, danger looms; because you may not achieve your identity in life. Hence, in every moment of crisis in your life, never lose heart; it is an opportunity to actualize a higher identity, for a Commitment with No Crisis, cannot offer a lasting Identity.