Sometime in the last few days I heard a radio interview with a man who had served over forty years in solitary confinement in the US prison system, a man who still seemed to have all his marbles despite only leaving his tiny cell for an hour a day during that time. (Bear in mind that Amnesty International regard more than two weeks in ‘solitary’ as torture and likely to affect mental health). When asked how he managed to get through that unimaginable and inhumane period, the man first mentioned that being one of the Black Panther movement, seeing himself as a dedicated Black Panther activist, was key.
In many of my posts I mention the power of narrative – narratives are really all we have to link items of sensory information together into meaning in an energy-wave universe – and the most powerful aspect of any narrative is the identity of the hero/heroine.
A soldier, wearing the uniform of his/her country (and after many hundreds of hours of exercises designed to ingrain that particular identity) will make decisions and perform feats that would have been alien or out of reach before that identity was assumed. Likewise for a suicide bomber from a paramilitary organisation. Or a person fasting or giving away their possessions in accordance with their religion.
My children are regularly told at school to tuck in shirts or put on their tie or that their shoes are not correct, as the school tries to create a group identity for its (often unwilling) inmates, who are just at that stage of life where they are flexing muscles of personal identity and trying out different things for size, predisposed to rebel against establishment, one-size-fits-all identities. Yet later in life, if one has been to the “right” school (not my children’s’ thankfully) and still espouses that identity, many doors will open and backs will be scratched.
All of these examples show just how powerful a tool identity is! And yet it is not “true”, not one tiny part is “true”. Just like Mr Benn, for those of you old enough to remember that fine, playful character, we are free to take on or shed any personal or group identity we want, a choice that becomes twice as powerful when we notice the ways in which each particular identity tag restricts or enhances the tools at our disposable and when we thus make decisions consciously and wisely.
Batman achieves what Bruce Wayne could not. Whereas with another kind of uniform a person might be disposed to believe that running in corridors or going public about the bullying they have received is wrong.
We all wear these uniforms, usually invisibly, often unconsciously, and getting the right one, the one that lets us shine just how we want at any particular moment or context, is one of the best things in the whole adventure.
Michael Jackson told Macca, “I’m a lover, not a fighter,” and you are just as free to decide what kind of hero/heroine to be, what identities to adopt. Noticing carefully with each new tag or costume, whether the price is to close mind or heart to other realities and ways of being… and what that might mean. For you and for all of us.