What is your identity? Do you have one, or many? Are all of your identities public, or are some hidden? Do some require you to be badged or accepted by other people, or can you self determine it? How well do your identities connect up – is there a common thread or link, or are you able to hold multiple contradictory versions of yourself? Is there a ‘self’ in the centre, orbited by public personas? When something changes, does it change every version of you, or just one?

Some people find their identity in work, in a hobby, in a belief, others are located in their nationality, in a community, or a particular interest or desire. Some identities are related to how we look, speak, or to how similar or different we are to others. Some identities we inhabit our whole lives, whilst others we do our best to resist, or cast aside.

I’m interested in questions of identity as an extension to my previous work on community and specifically ‘belonging’. That work explored how we ‘belong’, and what we ‘belong’ to – and now i want to consider which ‘self’ belongs, how, and why, and whether there are factors we need to consider in Organisational culture, learning, leadership, and change. [For example – does change fracture identity – do people learn better if they share certain identities – how closely does self determined identity relate to socially imposed identity etc]

We should seek to understand identity and belonging because it’s easy to make the mistake that there is only one ‘self’ and that we need or want it to ‘belong’ – this leads us to language about ‘bringing your whole self’ to work, which may turn out to be a terrible idea.

Most likely we are a collection of identities, each of which is highly contextual, sometimes to the safety of the space that it inhabits.

Some of this may be core to our sense of self, whilst others are more a ‘self’ of performance.

Identities related to jobs, to life stages, or events [like ‘leader’, ‘father’, ‘victim’ or ‘teen’] may come and go – or perhaps they stay with us – do you still internally identify as in your twenties?!

I wonder if you are able to analyse this: do you feel that you have a core self, a version of you that sits in the middle – and if so, who else gets to meet this ‘self’. Do you strive to keep this ‘self’ safe, and if so, how? And is it predictable what will damage it?

I think that to understand ‘self’ is important in terms of safety and belonging: it’s too easy to either project ‘self’ onto ‘other’, or to assume that we have the right to demand access to the self.

The more of ourselves we share, the more vulnerable we may be – and asking people to make themselves vulnerable is not necessarily appropriate as a facet of Organisational life.

Of course, change itself can attack our core identity: when people lose their jobs, they may lose a crucial component of self – or alternatively be entirely unaffected because they were never invested in the space.

Conversely, something of the Organisation may rub off onto our ‘self’ in good or bad ways: pride, if the Organisation does well, but embarrassment or fear if it does harm or dissolves into scandal.

To understand the different structures within which identity is held is valuable if we are seeking to build community: will communities embrace multiple identities (national, cultural, diverse) or be monocultural or monolithic? Will membership require adoption of an identity?

Identity may map outwards onto artefacts and rituals: tattoos, jewellery, clothing, culture. Sometimes through the visible, at others in specifically hidden ways.

To consider how, when, and why, people subsume or hide their identity will be useful to consider how we create truly safer and more diverse spaces, in ways that are both respectful and safe.

This is curious work: powered by curiosity. I want to gather narratives of the ‘self’ to understand how people describe their identity, what it means to them, and what, if any, lessons can be learned from this.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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