We first have to look at what identity is. What exactly is personal “identity” and where does this notion come from? We often speak of one's “personal identity” as what makes one the person one is. Your identity in this sense consists roughly of what makes you unique as an individual and different from others. Or it is the way you see or define yourself, or the network of values and convictions that structure your life. The concept of identity as we usually use it is quite close to the metaphysical concept of essence, in which it has its origin. The word essence is derived from the Latin esse, which means «to be» and has its origin in the thought of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Essence stands for the fundamental being of something, that is to say the set of attributes that make it what it fundamentally is, which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity or would just not exist. Having that said, we can go back and explore what makes one’s identity and how this one is shaped.
Our identities are first shaped at home. As babies we imitate our parent’s actions. We imitate everything we see. Our identities begin to construct ever since we are born. We then begin to be us, the persons we’ll grow up to be. Parents’ actions are primarily what affect a kid’s self-identity as they grow up. The construction of our identities is then influenced by the environment around which we live and grow up, and the people with whom we socialize and surround us. Much of what we see and go through impacts us, and these events are what shape our self-beings. Hence, no person can be the same as another. We all go through and experience different situations that make us unique in different ways.
Simple things like growing up in a certain neighborhood or culture attribute to the shaping and developing of our identities. Two normal average kids living and growing up two blocks apart from each other may experience completely different situations that would make them very different from each other. One of the kids may live in poor/dangerous neighborhood where gangbangers reside. Just the presence of the gangsters in that particular neighborhood changes the space completely from that of his fellow friend living two blocks away in a residential area where gang-related problems are not an issue. The environment and space are key factors in developing self-identity. As an example we could look at people living in a wealthy and safer neighborhood like Bel-Air where the crime rate is low, the median household income is $207,938, which is pretty high, (making it the neighborhood ranked number one in the Los Angeles County for the household income.) Someone growing up in neighborhood like Bel-Air will most likely have a completely different view of the world than someone who grew up in another neighborhood like Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw, where the crime rates are extremely high, and people don’t exactly live in luxury. The rich and the poor will have their identities shaped very differently according to the conditions they live in.
The fact of living and growing up in a dangerous/poor neighborhoods or a rich and wealthy ones helps to define how a person shapes his ideals and own-self. Living in a poor neighborhood people have to be careful and aware at all times. This may cause them to live in fear and/or to always have their guards up. With all the robberies, murders, and problems going on one develops a different perspective of the world. A kid growing up in a wealthy neighborhood where he does not have to worry about being outside at night and even during the day, or leaving his toys in the yard without having them stolen, forms a different view of the world in his mind. The perception one gets of the world, is mostly gathered from the events and environment in which one lives. This does not necessarily mean that just because one lives in a particular area or neighborhood he/she will develop an identity that reflects the environment of the neighborhood in which he/she lives. Like I mentioned before, parents’ actions are what first influence and shape a kid’s identity. It would not matter as much if the kid lives in the richest neighborhood, if at home he sees violence and experiences abuse of any kind, either physical or mental. As a result the kid will grow up to be a certain way: aggressive, pacific, honest, kind, abusive, or even a delinquent, etc. This is how space, and the environment and conditions we live in shape and help to construct one’s identity.
The shaping and developing of identity is a long and complex process that takes time. There are many factors contributing to this notion of self-identity. The situations presented to us, the environment and people surrounding us, to my understanding, are the most influential factors in the construction of identity. In different spaces and situations people act differently. People behave according to the stage that is presented to them. This translates to the behavior they develop and practice in other normal situations. Life is a process of learning. We constantly keep learning new things. We learn what is bad and what is good. In a way we learn to be ourselves and act accordingly. Developing our identities is learning what, why, and who we are. We may all take different paths, but in the end we all are heading in the same direction, discovering who we truly are.
o “Do we know who we are? A brief reflection on identity.” reduplikation.net. March 26, 2010. Web. April 29, 2012.
o Mapping L.A: Neighborhoods. Los Angeles Times. n.d. Web. April 29, 2012.
o Olson, Eric T. "Personal Identity." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2010 Edition.) Edward N. Zalta (ed.) Web. April 29, 2012.