I’ve spoken a bunch on this blog about our identity/identities. No surprise – it’s perhaps the most fundamental way we understand and interact with ourselves, and, as such, perhaps the most fundamental way we interact with and understand the world (through the filter of how it relates to us). The three-part series that starts here is the big primer on our “identity of identities”, but later posts cover even more facets, including this one on the benefit of diversifying our identity/identities as well as this highly important bit about how our brains cannot tell the difference between an attack on our body or an attack on our identity.
All of which means that what we incorporate into our identities is vital, lest we lash ourselves to a narrow set of views and options (often leading to unproductive results) or lest we lash out in all sorts of deleterious ways when they are threatened (leading to further unproductivity).
But one thing I hadn’t really done before is to consider that there might be differences between the ‘intensity’ of our identities. That is to say, I have been treating all of the identities we have as equal in their enforced rigidity as well as in their fervency. But that doesn’t exactly fit with my lived experience, nor with the philosophical concepts of the gradient and the middle path.
And so, perhaps it’d be good to introduce into this mix the idea of “tiered” identities, where our Tier 1 identities are the most intense identities that govern our behaviour the most rigidly and to which our calculating self reacts the most ferociously if it feels threatened. Tier 2 identities are less so, Tier 3 even less so, and our Tier 4 identities are, in many ways, only tenuously an identity and mostly are of the ‘for fun’ type relating to a casual hobby or interest.*
By looking at and recognizing our identities within this framework of Tiers allows us, for starters, to focus our mindfulness on those of the higher Tiers, as those are the ones most likely to lead us astray.** It also opens flexibility, reminding us that we are always at choice and even something like our identity is malleable. And it lets us have more fun! We needn’t, even accidentally, tamp down our lower Tier identities for concern that they may run amok.*** We can be playful with them and let them lead us to be playful with others as well.
I’m intrigued to see what opens up for me as I begin to explore this more. If you were to list your identities, what would you say they are, and, of those, what Tier would you assign to each?
* For sure, your hobbies or interests very much CAN be a higher Tier identity – for some it is their LIFE and they’ll twist everything in their lives for it and will react very harshly to anything that threatens it, whether external (someone speaks ill of it) or, perhaps, internal (an injury that removes their capacity to do it well or altogether).
** And when, by being present and mindful, we can notice that the default, already, always ways of being that live within those identities crop up in situations where they would not be productive and thus interrupt them before they cause undesired outcomes. Remembering that our identities are a creation, we can set them aside and be another way or engage another more appropriate identity here. (And, if it happens often enough, swap out that identity entirely).
*** Again, not to say they won’t or can’t run amok, but the chance is lower, and realizing they’re of lower intensity also has us realize they’re easier to interrupt and redirect ourselves before they go too far.