Is it important to identify yourself with any particular thing or image?
Let’s look at the larger question: do we ‘need’ to identify our self with anything at all? So it’s not about it being important or unimportant but to understand this whole business of identification.
We identify with any one or anything for security isn’t it? We identify with a nation, caste or class because it gives us the comfort of belonging to a large group of people, who can help us in the time of need. We identify because we feel vulnerable alone. We want the warmth and pleasure of being in a group. But ultimately, we see every single day what this identification does. When we identify with caste, class or nation we create a wall of isolation. There are people in the group and there are people outside that group. People outside that group are considered to be the “other”, people who threaten your security. And it does not take long before these identities flare and lead to violence; violence at the level of individuals, at the level of society and at the global level.
We also identify with religion or a symbol which is religious. What is the cause of this identification? Is it not fear? We are afraid of death, sickness, suffering and loss. We want a sense of protection, a savior whom we think is guiding and protecting us in our life. This symbol is a product of thought, of imagination, of belief. If it were not these things, would we be quarreling over such matters, spilling blood for centuries. No body quarrels over a fact. No one quarrels whether there is a mountain existing in front of you isn’t it? Whenever we believe in something and identify with it, are we not in a state of perpetual alert and defense. Since we have invested all our selves in this belief, we would not mind turning violent if we perceive anyone attacking our belief.
The identification works either way, on both sides of the sword. If I believe in God I have a lurking sense of fear and insecurity. If I have the opposite “belief” and identity that that there is no God, then also I have the same sense of defense and scorn. I make science into a God and admit nothing other than materialism.
Identification with things is perhaps the simplest to observe. When a car on the road gets damaged in an accident, we do not feel as much pain and suffering as when ‘our own’ car meets with an accident. It’s our identification with objects which makes us seek, acquire and cling to objects. And it is not very hard to see that all this causes feelings of insecurity, fear, possessiveness in us.
The root of all identification is the image we construct about our self, which is called the ego. The ego is the center of gravity of the various identifications we have created in our life. In all our work and relationships we are managing these identities, either defending them or attacking others if our self image is threatened.
Lastly, we also see an interesting fact – the shifting play of identities. While I may consider myself an Indian, I would make a difference between people of another caste in India. While I may identify myself as a Hindu, I would make a difference between a lower caste Hindu and an upper caste Hindu. While I may identify myself as an upper class Hindu, I would make a difference between a rich upper class Hindu and a poor upper class Hindu. While I may identify myself as a rich upper class Hindu, I would make a difference between a rich upper class Hindu male and a rich upper class Hindu female.
It’s identities which divide human beings, causing conflict and suffering in the world. So let alone the question of them being important or unimportant, they are the cause of human conflict, suffering and misery.