Now we have covered some ground and formed some conclusions on Self-Esteem that take away from the value it is given in society as a theory that explains good and evil human behaviour. And here comes a spanner that changes the course of our discussion – Identity. What is it? And what does it have to do with Self-Esteem?
You have gone to pay with a credit card and been asked for your ID. You have travelled and had to present the picture page of your passport. Before you can vote in many countries a card with your picture on it must identify to the authorities WHO YOU ARE. But that picture only provides so much information – a snap shot of your facial features. The concept of identity is about the whole of you – what is seen, what cannot be seen, what you see and what you cannot see.
Once upon about two years ago I came across a new perspective on the concept of identity in a most unlikely place. I was helping a friend in the writing of his dissertation for a master’s degree in International Relations. The central concept was national identity – the identity of one nation in particular. By the end of the exercise I felt myself worthy of a master’s degree myself – one in Identity, so long did I analyze and so deeply did the concept of identity resonate within my mind. I had come across Identity before in a different and seemingly unrelated place – my spiritual search – and had been chewing on the word and savouring the flavour for some time. But for the purposes of a discussion in International Relations the concept was split into two main parts:
- How a nation sees itself; and
- How a nation is seen by other nations.
I have determined that both these elements are authentic pieces of identity – they are both real and true, even if one or both of them are outside of the control of the identified nation or person.
How You See Yourself
The internal element of identity is determined by the cultural mores, the rituals, the relationships that a nation has and values. Think of the holidays you have where you live and how your own nation identifies with them. Transferring that to our own human experience, internal identity is the thoughts and actions and – yup, Self-Esteem – of a person, their sense of self, their boundaries and their own image as it displays itself in their head. It is determined by their own actions and their own judgment of those actions based on their belief system – always measuring up to the ruler they create for themselves. This ruler set will be determined by their religion, their jealousies, their comparing themselves to people they admire or despise, and informed by their culture. But in the end this is also part of their internal identity. So they see their intelligence and measure it – 8 inches of intelligence makes me above average and I feel good about that. Or they see their beauty – 3 inches of beauty doesn’t compare to Kim Kardashian and therefore I’m not good enough. You can see the path here from Identity to Self-Esteem. You can also see here that the internal identity is also informed in some ways by the opinions of others.
How You are Seen by Others
The external identity is the way that the rest of the world sees a nation, not with the vested interest of ownership or the fears of facing ones self but with objectivity – or at least a different subjectivity – of an outsider looking on. And so, in our own lives, it is what our friends and enemies see, who they see us to be. How they become sorted into friends and enemies will depend on their set of rulers, their values, their belief systems, and how closely they match up with yours.
Let’s take the USA as a case study. Their internal identity has traditionally been informed by the values of their founding fathers – several freedoms enshrined in a constitution. It is also informed in the outcome of the conflicts they have entered into like Vietnam and the Gulf War and World War II. Their achievements in sports, their economic successes, all of these things inform their identity. One would simply need to drive out of the airport in any US city to see bumper stickers screaming national pride and national identity and the love with which this nation sees itself. Not to mention national holidays where the things that they value are celebrated like Thanksgiving and the 4th of July and even Martin Luther King’s holiday.
On the flip side there are other parts of their identity held deeper and less proudly that they choose not to make a part of national identity internally but inform they way they are seen by other nations. The racism of their history, the brutal corruption of their politics, the stain of assassinations, espionage, and the hypocrisy of their international policies all inform their international identity. The USA is not revered in France as it is in Wyoming, it isn’t seen as a nation that stands for freedom in Iran or in Cuba in the way it is seen in Virginia.
Two things can be learned from the identity of the United States. Firstly, the vision one has of ones self can be completely at odds with, or at least very different from, ones external identity. Secondly, identity is a fluid thing evolving as time changes and people grow.
Of course, how you esteem yourself will be heavily affected by who you see yourself to be. You will measure that vision up against your value rulers and determine how much value you give to yourself and, voila, out comes your Self-Esteem!
But is how you see yourself the problem? Or is it how you are BEING that makes you value yourself more or less? And perhaps, most importantly of all, is who you are being something within your control?
Stay tuned for the answers in the next installment of the common-sense study of Self-Esteem.