Identity is all around us

The other day, I read an article in the New York Times about two Canadian men who were switched at birth by mistake. Each went home with the wrong parents. Now, 67 years later, the mistake has been discovered. It’s effect on each man has been startling.

One man is happy with his life, as it is. No regrets. The other is not. His response: “It makes me feel I’ve been robbed of my identity. My whole past is gone. All I have now is the door I’m opening to my future, which I need to find.”

The article — an especially dramatic example of the power of identity — reminded me of just how pervasive identity is in our lives, in big, stirring ways, but also in small, often mundane ways that slip into everyday affairs, often without us thinking much about them. But they’re always there to be seen, heard, felt, considered. The references can be serious, humorous, sad, silly, disturbing. 

The story about the two Canadian men made me think of just how widespread identity is. Which led me to rummage through some old files that hold articles I’ve collected over time. (Confession: I’m a packrat when it comes to items about identity.) Here are a few of the categories and headlines I dredged up …

Identity in nationsMany in Guyana Worry About Loss of Identity to Brazil

Identity in sportsOn Giants, New Faces and a New Identity (an article describing how a host of new players is giving the New York Giants football team a makeover) 

Identity in our personal lives Identity Shift (an article about midlife career changes) 

Identity in wineSyrah Seeks Its Own Identity (an article about the wine varietal, Syrah) 

Identity in the arts An Identity Crisis for Norman Rockwell’s America (from the book, Who Are We? The Challenge to America’s National Identity by Samuel Huntington) 

Identity in higher educationPulitzer Winner Tells New Students to ‘Rummage’ for Their Own Identities (an article about Tony Horvitz addressing Brandeis University’s class of 2007. As I said, old.) 

Identity in business Toyota to Change Design Approach to Clarify Identity

Taken together, these kinds of stories provide scaffolding for our lives — inescapable and persistent reminders of how we live, what intrigues us and who we are. Why? Because identity is about two things above all: uniqueness and potential, characteristics that reside within each of us. 

Next time you follow the news, listen to a podcast, see a movie or a TV show, connect with some other form of media, or even talk with friends, listen for references to identity. Some will be overt. Others will be implied, subtle, even unintended. But they are there, adding texture and meaning to our lives and relationships. 

Identity really is all around us.

Let it in.


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