After observing humanity for some time, through general observation in the real world as well as watching humans portray humans in movies, on television, in books, literature, and music, I have come to believe that the way we perceive ourselves and our identity is one of the chief determiners of our behavior. My evidence is purely anecdotal, mostly from personal experience of seeing people misbehave and wondering why they did so; but I’ve come up with a theory. I will use myself as a hypothetical example. Let us say that I see myself as a smart and handsome man’s man, who is successful at his job and popular everywhere he goes (again this is a hypothetical example). This is, then, my self-image; it’s who I see myself as being; it is my identity. What happens then when I lose my job? What happens if I lose my income, and with it my friends? What happens, after that, if I meet someone else who is smarter, and or better looking than I, maybe younger, more in his prime and more on the cutting edge of new research? What happens if, one by one, all the wonderful things that I characterized myself with are pulled away from me? I have nothing; I am suddenly adrift, searching for my identity and for my value as a human being.
This is what I see happening almost constantly all around me. People see themselves in a certain light; they have latched their identity onto certain characteristics or ideas. They know that if these identities are lost, then they will be, like my hypothetical self, lost and adrift, valueless and purposeless. Because of this, they guard their identity jealously, willing to go to great lengths to assure themselves that they really are who they think they are or who they want to be. This can cause problems.
Have you ever known that guy who always has to be right, has to “know” every fact, has to win every argument? Have you ever wondered why he does that? Maybe it’s because he sees himself as “the smart guy.” If someone else is smarter than he is, then that threatens the image he has of himself. It makes him uncomfortable and he feels a need to assert himself.
Have you ever known a boss who simply cannot, for some reason, abide any questioning of his decisions? Have you known a boss who can’t let her subordinates have good ideas? Could it be that this boss grounds their identity in success or power? Who are they if they are not successful? What do they have left if their subordinates pass them up, or make them look bad?
Have you ever known a girl or guy whose vanity knows no bounds? Or the girl who has to be the center of all the most important social circles? Have you ever known the guy who simply cannot ask for help?
A person will do a lot to defend their identity. It seems to me our willingness to destroy, tear down, suppress, vilify, or defraud others in the interest of defending our identities is the root of much of our society’s dysfunction. This tendency can, ultimately cause not only irritation and social annoyance, but pain and destruction. The problem is that there is no ability or characteristic that we can possibly claim that is not vulnerable to the encroachments of others. There is nothing by which we may define ourselves that cannot be taken away from us. Nothing except Christ.
By creating us and declaring us to be good; and subsequently by coming for us and dying on the cross to save us, God effectively ended the argument of our worth. If God says that we are worth dying for, then we have a value that no one and nothing can ever take away. No matter what anyone does or says to us or about us; no matter what happens to us or what we are or are not able to do, Christ died for us. Christ thought enough of me and you to undergo one of the most excruciating deaths anyone can possibly endure, all with the sole aim of getting to spend time with us; with me; with you. Nothing can change that.
How does that change your relationships? How much better are we able to interact with people when we no longer have to use, abuse, and destroy one another in futile attempts to prove our own self-worth? How might our relationships be better if we were able to come into them from the foundation of our secure identity in Christ; if we were able to stop seeing one another as threats and start seeing each other through the eyes of Christ? What kind of world could we live in if we were all able to approach each other from this standpoint? I think I’d like that world.