As we are left to face and deal with challenges and achievements, our identity undergoes a continual change. As opposed to how others view us, our identity is how we view ourselves, how we view our environment as well as our perspective of the world. This view we have of ourselves and our perspective towards those around us are subject to change as we mature and experience new environments. Though majority of our identity is shaped by dealing with new challenges, achievements, failures and the groups we choose to belong to. Individual’s intrinsic aspects as well as family, religion we are born into and our physical appearances cannot be ignored as it helps us to identify who we are.
As we journey through our lives, we encounter many different experiences. Our sense of identity is an accumulation of past experiences which instil the unique values, attitudes and behaviours we display. Even for twins, though born with identical DNA composition, their personalities differ due to being exposed to different environments and belonging to different groups. With these experiences and as we move from place to place, we associate ourselves with various groups in different environments. Whether the “place” refers to the geographical location or our position in society or the passage of time – that is continually changing, suggests that, after all, our identity is subject to change. Thus, our environment plays a significant role in defining our identity.
The groups we belong to play a major part in shaping who we are and how we identify ourselves. As we are all born to belong and feel the need to belong, our identity is inclined to alter depending on which groups we choose to belong to and how we react to the group. We may belong to groups such as our family, religious groups, sport, communal groups or any other groups. Our family shapes who we are at a very young age, whether if our family have a positive or a negative influence, through developing and maturing we are taught what is considered right and wrong as well as learning what we should accept and reject. Having viewed Louis Theroux’s documentary, “The most hated family in America” [BBC production – aired on Channel 7, 5th May 2008] it is clear what a significant effect one’s environment and involuntary belonging can have on the individuals identity. From an early age, the members have been indoctrinated to accept what we consider illogical and extraordinary. They have lost the capacity to think independently and it is clear that they have become the products of their environment. Not only for Westboro Baptist Church, have many extremist groups indicated signs of environment shaping the person they have become.
In cases of many extremist groups, many members have lost their ability to think independently due to being indoctrinated by what they consider “family”. Family is the first group we belong to and accepted into. Ideally, it is the group with unconditional love, understanding and acceptance, allowing people to grow with confidence and self-esteem, but this is not the case all the time. In the story of “The Courage of the soldiers” Pauline Nguyen explains how her desperate Vietnamese father imposed extreme academic expectations. Pauline recounts how her father would cane his children once for every B grads, and twice for every C, casually throwing them a dollar for every A grade they received. Through Pauline’s memory “fear and dog-shit covering my yard were the smell of my youth” highlights the conditional love she was provided with and the lack of individuality. Her identity was stifled by her father…