Identity. And Politics.
I remember fielding the question repeatedly when I was in grade school: What are you? Before long I caught on to what they were wanting me to say, but I wouldn’t say it. I said what I knew to be true: I’m American. I knew it because two of my grandparents and both of my parents were born and raised in New York (damnit) and back then, assimilation was a virtue. Yeah, but what ARE you? They wanted me to say was that I was a Jew. They wanted to feature, highlight, and focus upon the part of me that was different, to identify me as an other. I felt their incredulity as though I were laying claim to something that wasn’t mine.
I’ve lived some life since then and have taken on a number of identities along the way. Anyone? Some of them have come and gone like my identities as boss and employee. Bye-bye! Some have waned like my identity as a Jew — nothing personal, just doesn’t fit much anymore. Some are just what they are, won’t change, and don’t particularly resonate like divorcee and widower, White and male. One transformed entirely from financially very insecure to financially very secure. Author and brother are evolving. Still others seem durable like friend and spiritual.
Yes, I can identify with each of these identities in various degrees and in various ways at various times. If I attend the odd event at a synagogue, for example, my Jewish identity is immediately reconstituted. I feel at-home in and connected to a culture much more than a religion, and a few hours is enough to tide me over. Conversely, I identify one hundred percent as a gay man, but I’m a fish out of water at gay culture events that many straight friends actually relish. All of which is to say that there is identity, for sure, but identity like this can only ever carry us so far. I have not had the same experience of Judaism as others have had/are having. I have not had the same experience of gay as others have had/are having. People outside a particular culture can no less have an experience of it. And that right there is the word of the day/week/month/life: experience.
Identity is at the core of who we are as humans so if we are changing from being old-consciousness humans into being new-consciousness humans, guess what? The mother of all identity changes is upon us.
Indeed, fellow conscious politics practitioner, we are talking today not about identity politics, for that has become a pejorative whose meaning escapes me. We are talking instead about identity and politics. Identity is at the core of who we are as humans so if we are changing from being old-consciousness humans into being new-consciousness humans, guess what? The mother of all identity changes is upon us. As a conscious politics practitioner, this excites me no end, but I get that it freaks people out because, change. And yet. What undergirds conscious living is the notion that we are — every single one of us — eternal, spiritual beings. This is our new-consciousness identity — and it’s all we really need.
When we see and identify ourselves first as eternal, spiritual beings, experience (often, not always, informed by identity) takes a more prominent role. We are here to have experiences and as we share more and more of our experiences with one another and express curiosity about the experiences of others, we exercise compassion and otherwise midwife the new consciousness with interconnection and cooperation. Like everything we do, it just takes practice and it is a practice. To wit, regardless of my chosen or assigned identities, I have experienced being in the mainstream and being an outlier. I have experienced hate and violence. I have experienced connection and isolation. I have experienced loss. I have experienced anger, rage, and brotherhood. I have experienced hope and despair, joy and success, anxiety and longing. I have experienced adventure and excitement. Et cetera. One need not have any of my personal identities to have every one of these experiences and that is the point.
It’s not devoid of identity but not dependent on it either.
In politics an emphasis on shared experience changes the conversation and creates more roles for more people. If we’re reforming the tax code to help eliminate poverty, for example, we want people in that process who have experienced poverty and people who have experienced wealth and people who have gone from poverty to wealth and vice-versa and anyone else whose experiences with wealth and poverty can contribute to solving poverty. Now we are transcending identity and cultivating interconnection between identities. It’s not devoid of identity but not dependent on it either. And it’s not like we don’t already do this in some ways because we do. I have certainly heard in the last couple of years a lot of repeated calls for elected officials and civil servants and judges and prosecutors to have “lived experience.” That’s reasonably new and that phrase is not an accident. It’s a sign of a more conscious politics and as conscious politics practitioners we can do a few things to promote experience over identity.
We can remind our Selves every day that we are, before anything else, eternal, spiritual beings having physical, human experiences and identify first and foremost as that. We can remind our Selves that this also is true of every single human being on Earth, always. We can practice considering our own experiences and noticing whether they are because or regardless of any of our identities.
I just can’t say enough that, on its face, this practice fosters equality — it’s built in because we literally all start in the same place. (Like in our constitution!) It’s stimulating because, as we see, it also encourages compassion as we inquire more and more about each other’s experiences. It stimulates inter-dependence and inter-connection — hallmarks of the new consciousness for sure — by reaching beyond and outside of identity and connecting via experience. There’s nothing wrong with identity. It’s just not the whole or even the most important part of the story.