Who are you? Identity and American culture


Who are you?  When the moment comes, will you help or run?  Will you have mercy or no?  Will it depend on the day you have had?  The year?

When I was a teenager, I struggled with trying to figure out who I was.  It is a strange problem, kind of a first world problem maybe, but it was like missing a fundamental link in the ability to make up my mind for anything or make decisions at all, and I had arrived at a time to make decisions for myself.

Was I a stoner?  Was I a straight-A student?  Was I kind?  Was I realistic?  Was I artistic?  Was I a high achiever?  Did I value telling the truth always?  Was that a good plan?  Who was I?  Would I be alone if I did tell the truth?  What do I do about boys?  What is important to me?  Do I matter?

I am so glad that I am done with all that.  It was a weird, hard time.

Now with little ones of my own, I wonder if there is a way I can raise them to have more certainty about themselves.  To like who they are and be determined in who that is.  How does one do that, anyway?  Most of the time I am just plucky and proud if their clothes are clean, so this bigger question is out of the ball park.

So, truthfully, this has been one of the areas that I was really rescued in.  And when I say rescued, that is my language for, why I chose to follow Christ.  Before that, I had no reason to be good, no reason to be honest, no reason to be gentle, no reason to think of anything but myself.  It took a good looooong time for me to ease into not only knowing I could be better, but knowing how to get the strength to be better, and then, actually doing it.

Without having the compass of Christ’s teaching, I pretty much had a “if it feels good, do it!” compass.  And then I could never figure out “Why isn’t this making me happier?”  Like the party last night, I mean, that was fun, my friend set her hair on fire and we had to go home, but I mean, it was fun while it lasted,”  (yeah, that happened).  Why wasn’t dating people more satisfying, in fact, it was more like a roller coaster ride that wouldn’t stop?  Isn’t having a super good looking fellow who has a fun car, a job and an apartment, what was missing, why am I still not really happy?

That was where I was circa 1991.

Since then I have realized that much of my youth I permitted the culture at large to define to me what the world was all about.  If it was in music, on TV in magazines, then I was there, I knew about it and I was one step ahead of all of it, because it was important.  Why weren’t the things in the culture really making me happy?

Our culture does nothing for showing to anyone what real joy or real sorrow looks like.  Much less how to deal with it.  For example, new music that I liked made me as happy as I ever got.  Freedom in my car listening to my music was about as good as it ever got, outside of that was reality which looked confusing and not fun.

When my first child was born was at the peak of my happinessometer.  It was and still is the defining joy of my life.  But does popular culture talk about that much?  About the satisfaction of that experience, or does it help us to understand how to cope with the death of a close person young or old?  Culture, particularly our American culture, does very little for our young learners who are trying to comprehend who they are and this world they are in.  In fact, it tells quite a lot of lies.

How do you do one of the most difficult and important things in real life, how do you help someone facing death?  Where does American culture help guide us here?

It tells our young ones that their happiness or success if dependent upon their looks, their fashions, their wealth and their popularity.  It doesn’t inform us of relationships, how to cultivate or keep them by honoring people around us, it shows us how to make ourselves happy.  With things.  Like fancy boots or cars or jewels.

Culture focuses on the constant parade of temporary happiness.  How long before a person figures out that these things, feeding the appetites, is just a treadmill? Culture speaks not at all to the spiritual side of a person, unless of course it wants to sell them crystals, TV evangelism or an addiction to feed.

There are so many big topics I am just glancing on here, but the main point is that American culture is pretty unhealthy.  And I know I am stating the obvious here to an adults in the room, but for young folk, they look to the outside world from their homes to tell them what is real outside what mom told them and the messages are pretty shallow.  Big boobs, plastic surgery, making money, self-oriented satiation of appetites.  Sex.

In a deeper look, I believe that our American culture sends some pretty damaging messages to people.  A message that they aren’t that important, that they are disposable if they aren’t hitting a certain standard of wealth, beauty or popularity.  Our culture doesn’t equip us in any meaningful way whatsoever to know how to deal with reality.  The best we have are reality TV shows.

As a mom, I have wished often that what kids saw outside of what mom and dad said was something more healthy, something more whole, more real, more relevant, more true than the barge of trash that parades across the TV screen.  But I suspect that it is the price that is paid with a capitalist culture that what sells is what will fly, and what sells is usually the stuff that appeals to the most people.  And what appeals to the most people I suppose also depends on the age and education level of those people, perhaps.  With a popular culture that largely purveys junk, I hope for a time when collectively as a nation we will detox.

And in all truth, it makes me hope that the steady flow of junk will help people to acknowledge that none of this really brings any joy, and that they will go looking, and in looking, they will find enduring joy.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Mom says:

    Enjoyed reading your observations of culture and the individual. At my age I am amazed at the corruption of core values (honesty, Integrity, etc) by the media but also in politics and government. I could rage on, but as a parent if you can instill Christian values, critical thinking with a heavy dose of affection to your children you will have succeeded.

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