Identity. Seems straightforward, doesn’t it? Not so fast. How do you answer the question, “So what do you do?” when a stranger asks you? Do you respond with your job title? Your college degree status? Your socioeconomic status? Your state of health, disabled or non? Your military service, if any? Your profession? Your family position? Your hobbies? The list of medications you’re on? Your parents’ name in the community? The name of the building you donated to help build? Your alma mater? Your sexual orientation? Your marital status? Your second of three jobs that you currently work to pay the bills? Your volunteer status in the community? Your friends’ and associates’ names and accomplishments? How long you’ve been living in the same place? Your religion? Your country of origin? Your heritage? Or do you change the subject and avoid the question because you don’t know how to answer it? Or maybe you don’t want to answer it? Are you in denial? Identity. Not so simple anymore, is it.
More important than what we say when we’re asked about our identity is why we identify the way we do. There are scientific studies that show how socioeconomic status predisposes different people to respond in certain ways when asked, “What do you do?” Interesting, no? Identity. There’s even a science to it!
It’s largely due to my experiences in life that I identify myself the way I do. It also depends on who I’m talking to. Is the person wearing a suit and tie? Are they a Veteran? Is the person a missionary of some sort? Is the person holding a cardboard sign scribbled on with black Sharpie and wearing rags, dirty from wear and wandering? Have you seen them in your neighborhood before? Maybe too often with too little interaction? Are they an authority figure? Are they dressed casually, perhaps immodestly? Are they inebriated or otherwise chemically impaired? Are they acting in a civil manner toward me? Are their teeth straight and white? What ethnicity are they? Are they foreign? How well do they speak English? Are they famous? Are they obviously disabled? Do they seem nervous? Depressed? Are they a known trouble-maker, criminal, or indigent in the community? Have they been to prison? If so, for what? I’m not ashamed to admit that these things influence my thoughts on how I’m going to answer the question. Everyone should acknowledge their sorting process when it comes to how much or how little you’re going to tell someone who asks you, “So, what do you do?” We all have our druthers about this, whether we like to admit it or not. It’s called common sense. You’re not going to tell your safe combination to a thief. Or maybe you are… Identity. It depends on others’ identities, too.
My identity is that of a Disabled Veteran rock climber who loves to be outdoors. I’m a climber. So why isn’t that always the first thing out of my mouth? Why do I hesitate or say something else when put on the spot by the question, “So, what do you do?” I can tell you why. I’ve been looked at with disappointment, disdain, disapproval, and disgust for saying that. I’ve been made to feel like I’m not legitimate because I’m a rock climber. I’ve been made to feel like rock climbing is a frivolous and lowly pursuit, much like being a street musician or a graffiti artist. Now, I’ve been all kinds of places in all kinds of positions in life, with all kinds of struggles, and I can tell you that I respect everyone for something, even if it’s simply learning how to stay alive one more day. I resent the disrespect that I receive from some people for saying I’m a rock climber, just like I’m sure that person begging for $5 of gas on the street corner resents being flipped off by every teenager that drives by with their tinted windows down and their woofers thumping over some kind of gibberish while they adjust their overpriced sunglasses. No matter who you are, there’s something to respect about you because you’re a human being!!!
That said, I’m delighted to be part of the climbing community! It’s great to be part of something that helps me manage the stress and impairment in my own life! Climbing…there’s no feeling like it in the world!!! So, be proud to be a rock climber, or whoever you are. You have value! Identify however you want to. It’s your life!!! LIVE IT!!! And don’t let anybody tell you you’re not worthy to do that. You are. Trust me. You are. Be who you are, and when somebody asks, “So, what do you do?”, tell them with your head held high. Identity is everything to others, so make it count for YOU first! It’s not selfish. It’s sensible. It’s your identity.