Redefining one’s identity in a collectivistic culture

2929195528_536e9f3986_zIn my very first post I talked about the “I” in Iran, about the loneliness we face despite the fact that there are so many of us. I now wish to revisit the idea of the “I”, but from an entirely different perspective.

We work as a family, as a community and as a nation, promoting them more than we promote ourselves (heck, even I have been writing all my blog posts from a “we-perspective”), which makes us different from (most) people in Western European countries, who value self-promotion and regard reliance on others as shameful. But the habitual need to co-operate with others and fit in with the ones around us also has a downside as it makes us reflect others’ mannerisms and ways of thinking as naturally as if they were our own. The price we pay for doing this is thus the “I” – our own unique identity,  which we either unconsciously or willingly divide between our families, communities and our nation – and vice versa. Ergo, our identity is not completely our own.

Don’t get me wrong, some things about collectivistic cultures are extraordinarily beautiful, such as the promotion of selflessness, support, unity and the importance of family. But having an identity that is bound to a group can make it a tad difficult when it comes to distancing ourselves from the behaviours, thought patterns or habits that we don’t approve of when we see them emerging in other people who belong to our group.

What I call the “I” in Iran is thus not just about the fact that we occasionally feel lonely in our country or in the world, but also about the fact that we, by challenging the identities that we have and instead embracing who we were born to be, can become a specific and irreplaceable “I” in Iran.

And how can we make this happen? Well, for starters, we can ask ourselves the questions: “Who am I? How did I get the values and beliefs that I have? Are they really mine?”, and confront them head-on.





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