For part of my social psychology stream of my degree, I’ve read a variety of articles about how people form their identity & some of the tensions that exist in this process. How this links to childhood and youth studies I don’t know… but I thought that from a christian point of view it was quite interesting!
Psychologists claim that we form our identity between two seemingly opposing factors; individuality vs. collectivity. Individuality focuses on the need for individuation, uniqueness, and separateness. Collectivity centres on the need for and processes which facilitate belongingness, connectedness, and union with other.
Individuals need a sense of uniqueness and originality. We want to feel that we’re significant and that we matter, that ultimately we make a difference. We want to be distinctive knowing that certain aspects of ourselves are valuable and important. One of my aims for my life is to make a difference and to make a contribution to this world, to live a life that has counted.
However we also want to be connected with others, integrated into community. We therefore construct our identity out of socially possible faces and voices. As a society, we are in the habit of categorizing ourselves: boy/girl, black/white, working class/middle class, rocker/skater, punk/goth…etc. Integration centres on the involvement, connection, and communion with others. Psalm 133:1 says “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” We all long to be accepted in social groups, to know we matter to them.
We want to be individuated, unique or special but also want to belong, to be connected, to have union and fellowship with others. Developing our identities involves balance. We live in a tension where we want to be unique but not so individual that we ostracise ourselves from society and are outcasts. Extreme uniqueness is likely to be met with a lack of acceptance by, and communion with, others. Lack of community leads to marginalization from society which diminishes our sense of being valued by others. Conversely, extreme connectedness and low originality can curtail our sense of uniqueness and agency. We want to fit in with peers but then not so connected that we become a clone of each other and lose all sense of individuality. A season in life that this was most evident to me was about a decade ago when I was a teenager. I remember when I bought clothes, I would look for things that were in fashion but that no one else had. I wanted to be different but not so different that I would stand out.
So how do we get the balance right of being both individual and in communion? God has given us the answer for Christians as the body of Christ:
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” 1 Corinthians 12v 12-20
As Christians we are united – a unit – by God’s Spirit, by our partnership in the gospel, to form one body. We take communion sharing in Jesus’ blood. However, we are also many different individual parts (girls/boys, working class/middle class, punks/rockers etc.) We are unique and individual, meaning the gospel can advance through us to many different social groups in life. We should not try and be other parts of the church body, copying & mimicing them, and therefore losing our individuality. As christians we can be both in communion and individual. We are like pieces of a puzzle, perfectly individual but connected to others to form a larger body.
Many churches are made of individual social groups – black churches, white churches, young churches, old churches, middle class churches, working class churches. Social groups are gathering together to form churches as opposed to mixing between the groups. We’re getting churches of eyes, churches full of arms, churches of kidneys as opposed to complete church bodies.I once heard that the church should be a cross section of your city. In order for this to be the case, we need to cling to our individuality and not conform to “church fashions.” Churches should be as diverse as the city in which they are located: with people from every tribe and tongue represented.
So, these articles I read may not prove terribly useful for a career as a teacher but I found them thoughtprovoking and true in my every day life. We should be celebrating our diversity together as a people, God made us unique!