Let's Be Honest, Human Identities Are Naturally Inconsistent

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Have you ever looked back at something you have said or done and realized that it contradicted something else you know about yourself? You may immediately feel compelled to dismiss the contradiction as not meaning anything. Or, you may assume that they both apply to you and that you need to spend some time seeking an explanation for how this is possible.

I feel like people, including me, have an urge to understand ourselves, and believe that having a stable identity is the way to master this. We settle on one set of beliefs, values, and preferences. We only allow this to change if it’s because we’re getting older and moving on from the past. We don’t turn back to who we used to be.

So what do we do when we uncover a discrepancy between our words, thoughts, and/or actions, and we know that it has nothing to do with getting older? We try to create excuses so we can justify it.

But rarely do we consider the simplest explanation: we can’t be ourselves all the time.

How can you maintain consistency through all states of mind? When you are scared, you’re going to perceive more threats than when you feel safe. When you’re exercising, you’re going to be using different parts of your brain than when you’re reading Medium. When you’re alone, you’re going to feel freer than when you’re around others. When you’re speaking in a second language, its distinct grammatical features will cause you to interpret the world differently than when you’re using your first language.

These are just a few examples, but there are many other examples of our minds behaving differently depending on the circumstances. Entering a new state of mind will make you interpret things differently, and this includes interpreting yourself differently.

This doesn’t mean that it’s time to give up on cultivating a consistent understanding of ourselves. Quite the opposite.

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I’m just offering an idea of what it means to harmonize our own identities. It’s not about being true to ourselves. It’s about self-improvement. It’s about drawing a line from where we started (internal discord) to a more stable future personhood.

We can and should work on increasing the stability of our identities. But that’s the thing: we have to work at it. Our natural identity is by definition the one we have when we aren’t working on piecing it together. It’s the non-unified one.

I believe if one accepts that they are naturally inconsistent, they can get a better understanding of who they are as individuals. They would hold themselves accountable for things that they would have previously considered “not something I would have done.” They would open themselves to a wider range of experiences than they would in the past. They would understand that politicians are obviously going to be inconsistent when they’re unscripted.

But it’s an ambitious, somewhat unrealistic standard to obtain.

This article was originally published to Medium on October 13, 2022 (https://medium.com/illumination/lets-be-honest-human-identities-are-naturally-inconsistent-7bd490fb8aad?source=friends_link&sk=09e92b0659ee2b1af36caf5aeb764cc2).

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