Ego Integrity and understanding your identity.

It’s not often I repeat a post, unless it’s a few years old, but this one is immediately relevant even though I originally posted it only 7 months ago. It has been the catalyst for my Ego Integrity series of 8 articles which concluded last Friday and was originally written just a week after I was diagnosed with prostate cancer on 1st June 2019. But, it was NOT written out of any sense of despair or morbidity! I wrote it in a rage, a rage at how people like me were being branded in terms of assumed identity because of how I vote, because of my politics, because of feeling English, not European, and in fact not even British! It was after I’d written it and “vented my spleen“ that I remembered the Ego Integrity work of Erikson and thought I’d focus my mind on a positive reflection of my long life. It worked and all is well, so I thought I’d add this as an ending to that Ego Integrity series, I hope it makes sense to you all.

Researching my family tree recently has opened my eyes a great deal to the social history of the 1700s and 1800s in England which affected the lives of my ancestors. Many of my posts have been themed as Imaginative Ancestry as I tried to imagine the lives of tin miners in Cornwall, agricultural workers in Kent, and iron workers in Cumbria. But I have begun to realise that my increased understanding has done something else; it has altered my focus towards …….. myself! The basic question is “who am I” and much more importantly to me “what is my identity” especially as created or influenced by my ancestors?

Identity is a very personal thing, not something to be hijacked by those who label “identity politics” as something right wing or fascist, not something racist that’s based on ethnicity in a predominantly white country, but something that’s based on a self image, a personal construct arising from one’s upbringing, one’s values and beliefs and one’s sense of “being” in time and place.

Castlerigg Stone Circle, Cumbria, England

One thing is very clear to me; I am a Cumbrian, an Englishman, not a European. I may live in a country that is bounded within Europe, but that doesn’t make my Nepalese wife a European either. She is a Newar from Ason in Kathmandu, a Buddhist, even though she has a passport with European Union written on it; this does NOT say who she is!

My mother was born in Cumbria, England, her father was from Cornwall and her mother from Kent. She married a soldier from Durham whose parents were from Devon. I was born in Cumbria too, went to school in Cumbria and worked in Cumbria after leaving school until I was 19 years old.

My parents were ex WW2 military, low in education, low income, high in work ethic, high in community spirit and respect for others and the law of the land. This tells you something of the environment in which I grew up and how my values and beliefs were shaped.

I think this is the heart of it, our values and beliefs deeply ingrained are what “makes” our identity. So my beliefs in “big values” like justice, integrity, fairness, learning, tolerance, hard work and loyalty are hopefully backed up by how I have acted throughout my life as a father, a husband, a friend, a psychologist and as an aid worker.

But there’s something else about identity, a feeling of belonging somewhere, and that brings me back to my Cumbrian roots as I stand in the middle of a field in the Borrowdale Valley. I haven’t been to this exact spot for a few years, probably not since I was finishing my quest to stand on top of all 214 peaks in Cumbria (known and listed as Wainwrights).

I looked down the valley to the East and across Derwentwater to Skiddaw behind the lake, to my left were the beginnings of the Newlands Horseshoe with Catbells and Maiden Moor, to my right the Lodore Falls, and behind me the Jaws of Borrowdale carved by ice and eroded over thousands of years. This landscape has also carved my identity, whether it be the shores of the Cumbrian coast and its tiny fishing and mining villages , or the highest mountains in England inhabited by the flocks of Herdwick sheep. Both invoke a spirit of stubborn bloody mindedness, clinging to the land as well as a way of life …… a different way of life from my ancestors, but one definitely shaped by them rather than a political definition or a passport.

So, how about YOU, are you a “somewhere or an anywhere person”, to use the phrase of the late Sir Roger Scruton?



Categories: Family History, Philosophy

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4 replies

  1. I always felt I could live anywhere. I probably could. But I’ve found, having moved away from the area where I spent most of my life, that the people you are connected to play a big part in where you are ‘at home’. I now consider my ‘home’ to be in two places.
    My daughter lives in New Zealand. She loves it and is halfway to becoming a citizen of NZ. She also loves to visit family in the UK and spends weeks – months – catching up with friends and visiting the places we frequented in her childhood (where her nieces and nephews now spend theirs). But she now has a strong support network of friends and her partner’s relations in NZ. She will never, now, be able to live in either place without hankering back to the other.

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    • I think that relationships are a strong integral part of “home” though not necessarily of identity. I have very few friends left in Cumbria and have more friends in Kathmandu than here in our Cotswolds home. Maybe I’m just an oddball, but I’m still a Cumbrian no matter where I live.

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  2. As you know, I’m a UK-born European happily living in France.

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