Thursday, January 3, 2013

Modern day Identity crisis

Generally, when two people meet for the first time, an almost certain question in the conversation is ‘what do you do?’ Based on this answer, we quickly try to decide how far we would want to take the new relationship forward. Using this data, the other person is going to take a guess at our levels of IQ, EQ, SQ and many more. It is as if our existence depends on this one single response!! This question is easier to answer for some more than others. For example, it would be a very easy question for a successful celebrity. It could be an extremely uncomfortable question for a guy out of college and looking for work. 

The point is how comfortable are we in facing this question. Well, personally I could just say I am an engineer working for a reputed MNC. But, the drawback is there are hundreds of thousands of engineers working for equally or more reputable companies and this answer does not really set me apart and make me stand out in the crowd. So, generally, at the first available chance, I try to talk about things I do apart from work, with the hope that the additional information I provide about myself is going to make an impact!! But, wait a minute, why should I make an impact? Why should I bother to make the other person understand and appreciate that I am special? What is this need to stand out and why can’t I be content with the identity of ‘engineer working for a reputed MNC’? What’s wrong if there are hundreds of thousands of others sharing the same identity?

I feel the answer to most of these questions lies in one fundamental quality we possess – the strong desire to be different and unique. At the moment, I really don’t understand why, but am sure that most of us strive pretty hard to create a unique personality and we are not content with being one in the crowd. This forms one half of the identity crisis, where the focus is external and it is mostly about making the world acknowledge that we are special and unique.

The other half is the internal struggle, where we often find questioning ourselves – what is the impact I have on this planet? Am I leading a meaningful life? How many lives am I affecting? All these boil down to one single question – what is my net worth? There is no magic formula to calculate this, as it is too complex an equation. In the movie It's_a_Wonderful_Life , the protagonist gets a chance to see how life in his town would have been if he was not there. He gets to realize the impact he has created and witness the lives he has touched. Unfortunately, unlike the movie, we don’t get this opportunity in real life. If we had, probably it would have been an easier way to arrive at our net worth. 

Adding fuel to this identity crisis is the information overload we all go through. Every minute, we are bombarded with stories of movie stars, sportspersons, revolutionaries, social crusaders, child prodigies, serial entrepreneurs, eco-warriors, philanthropists and just about everybody. As much as these can be inspiring, they can be de-motivating as well, as we constantly end up comparing and evaluating our lives against them. But, what metric do we use to compare and evaluate? Here lies the problem because there is no universal metric for this. So, until we find the right magic metric, we better don’t compare!!

Then, how do we know where we stand? Imagine the world is like a huge insanely complex piece of machinery with tens of millions of component parts. Understandably, if the machine has to perform well, each component part has to be in good shape. Extending the same analogy, just like the component parts, probably each of us have a role to play to keep the world moving. Maybe, understanding our position and responsibilities in the complex machinery and working accordingly would solve the identity crisis. It is fine even if we are not the most visible pieces in the machine. I recently came across a saying which was on the lines “It is not enough to know oneself, but it also important to be content with it.” Could not have been said better.


  1. Neatly put words of wisdom. Reflecting some thoughts on the topic-

    "A strong desire to be different and unique" - I would consider this an unfalsifiable law of nature, that applies to everything that we consider having "life". But in the process of trying to understand this, you would be hitting a sensitive area of philosophy, perhaps beyond human comprehension. The closest we can name this domain could be by the term "individuality". The first notion that we attribute to this term, is that it is the by product of an ability to think different, by species with the "fifth(?)" sense. It was simple for me to understand this, till I learnt about a scary hypotheses that no two particles of the universe might behave in the same way and that the whole concept of probability is a misnomer. Humans tend to believe what they want to, but again there are always things that are far beyond our their ability to prove/disprove. But if this theory is true, the law of individuality could be a fundamental, life creating force of nature. As a corollary, if there was no individuality and everything was the same, there would be no point to "one's" life, as that "one" cannot be distinguished from another.

    Interestingly, off-late I've been observing the use of a totally opposite phenomenon in books and movies where "unrelated, yet very similar actions of different individuals create a seemingly concerted effort". The quote is actually from a TV-anime called "Ghost in the Shell", which inspired the movie, The Matrix. Simply put, it is where different and disjoint individuals, unknowingly work towards causing the same action or event. To my knowledge, almost all movies revolve around a protagonist/antagonist/ a.k.a different individual. From an eagle-eye point of view, humans have indirectly succeeded in establishing the notion that individualism is a law to be followed, and non adherence would induce a feeling of a threat (like the one felt by the engineer working for the MNC ;) So failure to understand the source of the need for individuality is understandable.

    1. Thanks Arvind for the insightful comment., you are right that we have succeeded in establishing the notion that individualism is a law to be followed. But, I am still not sure if this is a natural instinct or not. May be, the core desire is to explore our real identity. But, somewhere down the line, the focus shifted towards creating a unique identity rather than our true identity.