I’m staring at the ID card I’ve had for several years.
This card tells everyone Mary is a permanent employee for a state government agency and assigns an ID number. It also contains one of the few ID or driver’s license photos in which I don’t appear to have woken from a two-day drunk.
ID stands for “identity,” but you wouldn’t learn much about me from the plastic rectangle that is clipped to a piece of wardrobe Monday through Friday. If you personally knew me, you would know I can’t stand to have a lanyard or piece of jewelry around my neck. I swear things hanging from my neck start up headaches, although it could simply be psychosomatic. Is this part of my identity a physical issue or an irrational phobia?
YourDictionary.com defines identity as “who you are, the way you think about yourself, the way you are viewed by the world and the characteristics that define you.”
So, who exactly am I?
Many years ago, I was at a training titled “Who are Hue?” It was a personality color test. Have you taken one? Did you agree with the results? In my case, I scored highest in the gold spectrum, which meant I was a highly organized individual. (My computer desk at home would tell you otherwise.) The secondary color was orange, which signified risk taking. At the time, I drove a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which is not always a safe adventure, but I did not consider myself a person who seeks to take risks. For example, you would be hard-pressed to take me bungee jumping or sky diving. And since the day of the color test, I’ve traded in the motorcycle for a bicycle, which has its own risks, but at a much lower speed.
There are numerous ways in which I can self-identify or let others choose how to recognize and perceive the sixty-one year old that walks planet Earth.
When babies are born, mom and dad are initially recognized by voice, touch and smell until those little eyes start to focus. Within two months of birth, babies begin to take note of the world around them and the physical appearance of their parents – mom, with the jet black hair and dark brown eyes, doesn’t stand as tall as dad, who has a shaven head and piercing blue eyes. By eight months, babies can identify their parents from across the room.
I inherited mom’s dark hair (now gray under the dye) and dad’s blue eyes. I don’t remember when I first noticed either feature, but they both had physical attributes that were easy to recognize. Mom had a certain gait to her walk and dad’s vocal chords always gave him away. Both had light olive skin and their height meant that I would be taller than mom and my brother would be taller than dad. Mom and dad wore eyeglasses, which has been my fate since second grade.
Physicality is how most humans identify other humans.
“She’s a new member at church. I recognize her because she’s so petite.”
“He works at the health food store…such a nice smile.”
“I don’t remember her name, but she has the most beautiful peachy skin I’ve ever seen.”
Until I learn your name, it’s how I will identify you most often. Unless, of course, you have body odor, in which case I would not have to see you to know you are in the room.
Names, Titles, Numbers
I’m Mary. You’re Joe. I’m a supervisor. You’re the IT guy. We both have work ID cards with numbers that are entered in the program that provides a paycheck every two weeks. While Joe and I know each other (and our titles) on site, the payroll program knows us by our name, ID number and a few additional details such as a DOB. It can’t tell how tall we are, the color of our hair or our fashion sense.
Enter the Department of Motor Vehicles. This entity wants to know our height, weight, and the color of our hair and eyes. They also take terrible photos so the State Patrol officers can laugh at the license photo while handing out a speeding ticket. I haven’t recently received a speeding ticket of late, but the license photo is eye-rolling laughable. And since the DMV’s license renewal is every eight years, I’ve been stuck with this atrocity for six years.
How often do you hand out your Social Security number to banks and credit card companies? It’s another way to identify a person, but it’s also a number that has affected almost 9 million Americans every year in the form of identity theft. It’s a subject that merits a separate, ongoing essay about self-protection. I’ve known people who have experienced identity theft and it’s not something they would wish on anyone. When we grow into conscious, thinking adults with our own sense of self and financial portfolios, no one person deserves to have that taken away from them.
Kids are good at creating labels. “Twiggy” and “Jolly Green Giant” were two labels thrown upon me by classmates while growing up in a small community. Being a thin 5’9” in eighth grade was the impetus for these monikers. Most children and teenagers are labeled because their peers identify them in specific ways. He’s the smart guy. She’s the cool cheerleader. He’s klutzy. She’s a math nerd.
Who among us did not have at least one assigned label through school?
Eventually I graduated and moved to a larger community where being tall wasn’t such an oddity. I got older, heavier and less Twiggy-like. And in having a lengthy career, I’ve been given a new label as someone who “knows everything.” Perhaps, but I think it’s more a matter of everyone knows my name (a/k/a the Cheers bar).
Yeah, technical stuff. Do I need to explain details?
Fingerprints, DNA, the iris and retina, the pattern of the tongue, toe prints, teeth, ears, lip prints and speech are unique to every individual on the planet.
Remember that I mentioned my mom’s gait and dad’s voice? Totally unique to them. Dad used to make my cousin cry when she was little. He would pick her up and start talking, and she would go off. Dad had a somewhat booming voice and cousin most likely identified him as “that loud scary guy.”
Emotional and Social Identity
Are you the angry neighbor or the withering wallflower? The no-nonsense mom or the sensitive man? The Republican or Democrat? The religious zealot or calm, faithful follower? The introvert who prefers to be alone or the extrovert who prefers social gatherings? Do you stress out over minor details or take charge of the situation?
Who exactly are you?
Be careful with the answer because what you see in yourself is not always how others identify you. I found this to be true several years ago when a co-worker pronounced that I was a perfectionist and a bit obsessive/compulsive. “Nuh-uh,” I said to myself while carefully straightening out all of the paper in the twenty-some mail slots at work because the messiness drove me to distraction. Yes, I was a bit O/C and tried to be perfect in daily work. Remember, I was the organized gold color of years past!
In the present, I’ve let some of that go because it’s simply too tiring. My emotional and social identity has undergone change in the last ten years. Friends might say I am a happier person, my religious faith is stronger, and I’m a little less wired. Or perhaps they identify me in a totally different manner that would surprise the hell out of me. Perhaps I need to start asking.
What did I miss?
There are a million ways we can identify ourselves and others. I know I’ve missed some, but this is an essay, not a book.
So, I ask,
“How do you identify yourself? Is there something I missed in the way you identify others?”
Dear Readers, I’m currently engaged in an online creative writing course through a local library. This post has been my incursion into assignment #4: “Go into your purse, wallet or that spot in your house or office here you keep stuff that really has no other place. Take three items out and place them on the table in front of you. Choose one item to write about. Write an essay to educate, inform and entertain.”
There was more to this assignment, but you’ve read enough. I was supposed to let this sit a day and then edit it down to 500 words, except my computer decided to complete a 24 hour update that didn’t let me finish the essay in a timely manner. I have sh*t to do, people, and I’ll be out of town a few days this week, so you have to suffer the consequences of this novella.
Hope you enjoyed and I will be sharing other assignments over the next two weeks as deemed appropriate and printable.