I once worked in a record store. One of the perks was that I could listen to any album available.
Their anti establishment speeches were so passionate, so authentic in delivery that I found myself adopting and playing the character of the socially conscious activist. Nothing seemed as critical as educating the sheep-herd masses about the injustices perpetrated by the military industrial complex. So I did that in between bong rips at hipster parties.
As I’ve aged I’ve found new thought leaders, new philosophies, new music, and new systems. And with each new influence, my thoughts and actions have either strengthened, or rejected the previous.
When children are exposed to adult ideas, they simulate them through role-play. And as we age, we don’t stop. We just pretend we aren’t playing. Things become serious.
So I’ve played many roles: The rockstar, the writer, the coach, the seducer, the conspiracy nut. And now I realize, that’s all identity is: A role in a great cosmic play, where you can try on and toss off any outfit that fits.
This is a first world privilege in a way, since a child soldier in some distant ravaged land would have no choice but to play the warrior-survivor. We have a choice, but often we’re so absolutely rigid and dogmatic in the roles we play, we might as well be porcelain dolls. A lack of real danger or hardship leads to some pretty fantastic and silly role playing.
For many years I felt as if there was no choice. I was against racism, so I must be a liberal. This meant conservatism was the enemy. I was into loud anti-establishment punk bands, so I must be a punk. The need to fit into a tribe, to wear a costume and perform ritual is so encoded into our dna that few of us ever realize how unconscious our conformity is. Even self-awareness and anti-conformity…is conformity.
These identities stem from our experiences: The views of our friends and the need for their acceptance, the tv shows and movies we watch, the music we listen to, the wisdom and idiocy of our teachers and parents, our favourite authors, YouTubers, podcasts, politicians, pundits and news media. All of this information forms the philosophy and we say “That’s me. That’s who I am.”
We believe Identity is rigid, that our actions are necessary and we cannot change. It’s in our cultural memes: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But a good teacher can.
If you remain rigid in your beliefs, if you stick to one archetype and one game, you are denying your true identity: That you are fluid, dynamic, and malleable. Like Bruce Lee said, “Be water my friend.”
Some of my friends are Atheist. Atheists believe that anything not proven by science is false. If it cannot be measured by known instruments, and is not validated in mainstream media, then it cannot be true. Atheism is a rigid game, that serves the needs that religion used to serve: Meaning. Why are we here? What does it all mean? Science ™ has the answers for you, coming up on CNN.
Some of my friends are Feminist. They believe that Canada has a thriving rape culture, where women make 77 cents on every dollar a man makes, one in five women are assaulted on college campuses, a man sitting with his legs spread on the subway is an offence, and the hashtag #killallwhitemen is not racist or sexist.
Some of my friends are musicians. They love smoking weed, rocking out, playing gigs. That’s their game. But they often end up broke or addicted to drugs. On the positive side, they get to play the game of being creative, cool, and popular.
Every game has its ups and downs, its Ying and Yang. But we can adapt, try different roles, wear different identities.
We should question our beliefs, challenge our dogma and try new ways of being. Ask yourself the next time you spit a fact, or scoff at someone else’s idea “Where did my idea come from? Is it even my idea? Or something I read on a blog? Or heard on the news, or at a party?”
The truth is…there is no truth. We are all playing a game, and then “poof” we will be looking back over our time here, at the people we met, the things we saw, the experiences we had and go “Well that was an interesting trip.”
Your identity is an illusion, and you are the illusionist. Adopt what role works for you, but don’t do so blindly, in a dogmatic fashion. Don’t believe your thoughts, or your facts, unless you’ve experienced the truth yourself. And never believe that you can’t improve your situation, whatever it is.