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Interrogate Our Identity Markers
Familiar with the knot in the pit of your stomach when you are either on the giving or receiving end of a nasty remark, a sneer, a surge of anger, or hate? Both the giver and receiver of such behavior feel the emotional reaction of these prejudicial behaviors throughout their bodies. We began the journey to civility with mindful awareness, so that, through the presence that is borne of mindfulness, we are more able to cope with our gut reactions.

Our emotions are raised because these inciting behaviors challenge our identity. So it seems useful to examine the qualities that constitute our identity, and then interrogate them to see where our reactivity lies, so that we can examine and ameliorate our prejudicial responses. I don’t mean to suggest that you are unaware of your identity. These practices raise your consciousness, and allow you to look at your identity in new ways.

At the same time, we recognize that the person who caused your reaction has identity characteristics too, different from yours. The hurtful remark or action is likely borne of those differences.

Ten qualities “mark” identity— four ascribed in utero, three at birth, and three as years develop. I name them as follows:
  • Ascribed in utero— time and year of birth that assigns your age, DNA-coded abilities, gender identity, “race”;
  • Ascribed at birth— ethnicity, place of birth, social class;
  • Ascribed as years develop— religious identification, political identification, and educational opportunities.
These markers operate in relationship to one another and also place us as individuals in relationship to one another: your age, for example, determines opportunities, in that you can do different things in your twenties than you can in your seventies; on a personal level, your age identifies your relationship to others in any group, silently or pronounced.

We interrogate our identity markers by asking three sets of deeply personal questions that speak to your own identity and help you understand that of others. This is a good time to pull out your journal so you can keep track of your insights.
  • Who am I as a [insert the name the marker]? What is the core substance of my identification as a [insert name of marker]? What are my experiences and memories as [insert name of marker]? What thoughts and emotions come to mind? Why?
  • Within my [insert marker], where is my reactivity? In the substance of my being as a [insert marker], what beliefs, thinking, images, past experiences, etc., gnaw at me, causing the visceral emotionality that resides in my very cells? And, most important, . . .
  • Realizing all of the above, how will I respond to an Other, capital O, someone different from me? What is at issue here? How might I modify my response so I can live more harmoniously, with civility within myself and with Others, in the place(s) I inhabit?
This I promise: working through this set of questions for each of these markers and writing down insights will give you understanding of your identity, and of the genesis of experience and behaviors associated with the various markers. Obviously, this process connects you directly with our great social justice issues related to race, class, sex/gender, and so on.

To internalize your insights, you can scan your identity, just as you scanned your body. In the early stages of internalizing these markers and their meaning, writing the ten marker names on the back of your fingers can thereby help yourself to remember them. You only need to look at the back of your hands to scan your identity.

This interrogation internalizes the experience of your markers and calls for a similar devotion of time and meditative activities to codify previous behaviors and possibly rectify them in future interactions.

This process of identity consciousness-raising will open you to your full humanity and to that of Others. Imagine the gratification of coming to the table of dissensus, holding the results of your own identity scan in mind and imagining, quite possibly knowing, something of the identity of the Other with whom you are seeking common ground.