Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Holding on to Questions

Is this a great image, or what??  I found it here:  http://www.asme.org/kb/news---articles/articles/uncertainty-analysis/experimentation-in-uncertainty-analysis
Lately, the question of identity has really gotten a hold on me.  It seems to pop up in every deep conversation I have, sticks its curly inquiry into every little blog post - and winds itself in, around and through every piece of fiction I write. 

And I like that.

It may be a personal eccentricity, this love for wrestling with questions; but the more I dwell on the idea of identity, the more I'm beginning to see it as something absolutely necessary.  In fact, it's as necessary to identity as breathing is to life.


Partly just because who I am - and who you are - is something that contains more layers than the proverbial onion.  If we want to understand one another, we need to delve beneath those layers.  But if you've had the tenacity to follow my other feverish ramblings on the subject, you'll already know I see it as more than that.  

It seems to me that our "identities" - or what we see as our identities, are very often something we hide behind.  Our "world views", also, tend to be a neat abstraction that we paste across reality, in order to protect ourselves from seeing it too clearly.   This makes life comfortable, and to an extent, we need to be able to simplify in order to understand anything in this complex universe.  I'm not suggesting we throw off all our understandings of everything, and live instead in angst-ridden confusion.  However the "abstractions" we use as shorthand understandings of ourselves and our universe need to be mindful; and ever-growing.  If not, we become mere cardboard cutouts of ourselves and never truly alive.

And it seems to me, that this "aliveness" is only to be found at the edge of our abstractions.  In the bits that either thrum joyously with or rub uncomfortably against reality and cause us to re-evaluate.  There's life in exploring the edges, and in the unanswered questions that we must wrestle with. 

To me, this applies to faith, to relationships, to everything.  Bring on the questions!!!


  1. "However the 'abstractions' we use as shorthand understandings of ourselves and our universe need to be mindful; and ever-growing. If not, we become mere cardboard cutouts of ourselves and never truly alive."

    I love the way you put that, and I agree. More than one person has told me I think too much and am just too curious for my own good (dead cat and all!). I always reply that I suspect they may think too little.

    1. Hehe, Doug - like you, if I were a cat I'd have used up my 9 lives years ago!!

      I think, perhaps, the biggest part of this battle is learning to recognise that we actually do use "abstractions" to represent reality. I was going to say, learning to recognise the difference between our concepts and abstractions, and what is actually "real" - but I'm not completely sure that's possible!

      Thanks for taking time to join the conversation!

  2. Hi Kerry, while at the indigenous community volunteer course one of. My class members made an apt observation.

    Identity, she said, was defined externally and internally.

    External identity is how others try to define you.

    internal identity is how you define yourself.

    You should maybe make a list of your internal identity definitions, does it include artist, mother, teacher, caring person, Christian?

    then perhaps try and look at how others try to define you?

    My identity like yours is complex. A few words to help define myself are, radically agnostic, culturally Christian, Quaker, zen thinker, an appreciators of Buddha, bad poet, married, lover,

    I had a real problem with identity and self esteem, when I was on the disability pension. External definitions of me were things like, bludger, malingerer, cripple, gimp,. I only had to listen to Sydney am radio to get these epithets. No matter how hard I tried to get work, volunteer with the ses, do other voluntary work, I would let the external definitions define me.

    1. Oh Stu - I'm not sure I even WANT to know how others define me!! My self-esteem might feel a whole lot less healthy if I did!

      I have an intuition that, for the most part, external definitions have no power unless there is something internal that resonates with them. (At least, once we are adults - as children, all those external messages have more power to shape our internal worlds.) The definitions others give us only hold power over us to the extent that we accept and believe them.

      I don't believe any of those negative things about you. I think, these days, you would feel more confident to say the same? It is very difficult to shake long-held perceptions of yourself, though. Sometimes a crisis of some sort shows our faulty reasoning... sometimes just a lot of time and love. I know I feel a lot more positive about the person I am, today, than I did when I was younger. Partly just a matter of shaking off dodgy thinking, but also (& for me I think this has been the most important thing) learning to accept myself for who I am - both gifted and flawed. Being human means being perfectly imperfect - which is a wonderful way to be!

  3. Kerry - excellent. I love the idea of aliveness being found at the edge!

    Stuart - External and internal? Fantastic! As soon as I read that I realized you were like five steps ahead of where my brain was trying to arrive, and you're right.

    And Kerry, I agree with your belief about the external's power over the internal. I was just talking with a friend the other day about how absurd it seems to look back at high school and college and realize how much power everyone's thoughts had over me, especially in the area of my sexuality and the choices I would make because of it. If I found myself in that same situation today, I'd simply shrug off their external identities, knowing that it has absolutely no bearing at all with who I am before myself and my Creator. Let them squabble and freak out; time and growth and questioning have secured me quite peacefully in the hand of the Father, knowing that I'll be judged on the last day by him, not by anyone else, and not before then.

    Perfectly imperfect - a wonderful way to be indeed! :)

    1. You're such an encourager, Ethan! (I'm keeping YOUR external feedback!! ;)

      And yes - for me, too, the path to accepting 'me' has been through the knowledge that God has made no conditions. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hello Emark and Kerry.

    Kerry, I can understand your concern about what others might seem to define you as, it could open up a can of worms.

    But if perhaps you approached all the words that "define your identity", you might see, that some are internal, some are external, and start to dispose of the external definitions.

    At the Indigenous course, we were invited to think about how a lot of people define Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in terms of the racist, horrible things that we all know that people say. You, I and Ethan, may never say these things, but you just have to troll the net, or read a few national papers, to see that a hell of a lot of people want to criticise almost everything about being Aboriginal.

    Then there are internal definitions, an Aboriginal person may have about themselves like brother, loved uncle, elder, Grandpa, Warrior,friend, protector of the land, guardian of culture, to use male specific examples.

    Myself, I found that I was wounded by constant attacks on people like me claiming a disability pension, this affected my sense of identity very badly, so badly I sought psychological counselling and psychiatric medicine. People would say, I could easily find work if i wanted it, it wasnt true, many OH&S regulations prohibited me from working in some jobs, disability was seen as a risk factor in insurance terms, and there were practical aspects like I could never be the welder/fabricator/carpenter tradie i wanted to be because I was too slow, in all practical terms.

    When these conditions shape your everyday life, these external factors can have a big affect on our self esteem. I personally refused to give up, kept studying, kept applying for work, kept volunteering.

    I definitely dont feel as bad these days, with my great new job, and some real career prospects in front of me. I wont forget however, how a bunch of nasty, unimaginative people, kept trying to almost kill me, with words and external definitions.

    I found at the time, Christianity helped in many ways. I maybe a radical agnostic nontheistic zen quaker, but Christianity provided friendship, singing was a path to spiritual expression. I was never really excluded from congregations, though some people were a pain in the $%^&. Others were some of the best people i have ever met. On a practical level, St. Vinnies and Anglicare, Unitingcare, all helped provide me with essentials.

    The Quakers real name is "The religous society of friends" or just "Society of Friends". As some one who has come through the mill of fundamentalist presbyterianism, methodism, "assembly of godism", I want to throw away all dogma. I am not prepared however to ignore what Jesus taught, i am prepared to think carefully about it.

  5. Why I mentioned "Society of Friends" is that it doesnt have to be organized or be mandated officially from canberra, or whereever. .

    We as Christians, atheists, agnostics, can be a society of friends in a broad sense.

    Perhaps that interlude on the Quakers makes no sense. blahhhh just my tangential mind.

  6. Stu, thanks for clarifying - I understand better where you're coming from with the internal/external comment...

    For me, at the moment (and maybe I'm just on a bit of a different tangent, right now - I get that way!) I feel like any of the labels I might use to describe myself never truly fit. I guess I am an artist. That does describe a very core part of who I am.. and it's a flexible/broad enough "label" that it doesn't feel inaccurate. It only describes one facet, though. I'm female - but we all know that gender gets a bit nebulous if you start examining it closely, and I don't feel that really defines me. I'm a "Christian" in the sense that I believe in and try to follow Christ - but I feel I'm so far outside most people's understanding of that label that it is almost meaningless. Other words like "mum", "blogger", "renovator" are useful, but functional - they don't capture who I am. And other labels people might use... white, teacher, middle(?)-class, kind, self-absorbed, flaky, forgetful... well, they either describe some social category I'm deemed to belong to, or some facet of their interactions with me. How DO you label a living soul?? I don't think you really can!

    Tell you what, though - I really like your idea of a broad "society of friends" - and I think we kind of have that happening, in this big conversation we are involved with on the blogosphere... You, Tildeb, Ethan, Doug, Adrian, ... and all the others who pop in and share their own thoughts and perspective here and elsewhere - I think we fit that description! Nice one!!

  7. Lol Adrian. Yes Kerry and Labels are just words. Not one single word, would ever describe the complexity of ourselves.

    This is part of the reason I cant believe or comprehend in any God a human can name. The word is a human utterance, and any word anthropomorphizes the subject.

    We could throw words at our identity for eternity and still not be satisfied.

    1. Stu, I think the thing to do, is to learn to let go of the words!

  8. Yup, letting go of words is important i think. Silence has enormous benefit.

  9. I am no fan of identity labels. I am constantly asked to agree to be so labeled so I usually come up with something along the lines of long list of opposing labels and let the other person try to figure out what it might all mean. I recall fondly being told in no uncertain terms that because I was not a member of some group by blood ties, I couldn't possibly understand the issues under consideration unless I was X. So I responded that I was X. It brought the entire discussion to a standstill. I thought the person's head was going to explode.

    I've always been partial to ML King's call to be known not by the colour of our skin but by the quality of our characters. I think this equally applies to all labels and replaces them with actions. Online, I take that to mean the quality of our thoughts and the quality of the ideas we express and the quality of how well we try to accomplish this.

    And, yes, I have a ways to go!

    1. Mr T! Nice to "see" you again!!

      And perhaps... the relational quality of our interactions with others... whether we listen well, and respect their personhood, whether or not we agree...

      Which I think is a challenge for all of us :)

  10. I think however there are realities, of things like racism, which is based on a fact of skin color or eye difference etc, however, the stories and other labels people attach to these facts, build the racism.

  11. I guess, Stu, when we talk about "letting go of labels" we are talking about more than just words - we need to let go of the concepts and divisions between people that underly the words.


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