Friday, October 22, 2010


Walking through a high school hallway during passing period is an experience in diversity. There are the academic kids, the athletes, those that identify with a particular style of music, the computer nerds, those with a strong ethnic identity, the musicians, and there are the druggers, and the gang members, and the loners…. All swirling around in a mad dash to make their next classroom. The AP chemistry students, the remedial pre algebra kids, the special needs kids, the vocational auto shop students, the kids wearing strong political and social messages - here they all are. Within minutes the hall is silent – everyone has found his or her niche.

What fascinates me the most is the self-selected identity that students choose for themselves. In today’s world there are so many choices- It's like out of the whole wide world each person decides to build fences and say, “ this is me”, “and this is not me”.

Developing an identity is something we acquire partly during our formative years, partly it’s choice, partly from our environment, partly the effects of our own decisions. Many of us choose to identify as someone who seeks to be a good neighbor, to support those who need a helping hand, we try to be fair, to do our share, and we reject being cruel and judgmental to others. But we all know people who have chosen other identities....and sometimes we ourselves fail.

I know people that have a passion for one topic – its like a filter that they wear over their eyes – they measure everything by whether it deals with their topic of choice: Cars, their political party, geology, surfing, sex, their religious orientation, their sport, plant pathology, modern dance, getting an education… ( or some combination of the above... ) All of these can be ways we build fences that limit what will be possible for us to see and experience…

In the schools that I visit I see gang members who live in a dangerous world every day. They often have no support group and live among people that they don’t understand or trust… the daily dangers facing them are real. - The only options that they see are to be regularly victimized or to join a gang to find acceptance and protection. (For which they pay a great price). This person has chosen a very limiting identity out of fear and the need to belong.

I see people with diminishing options as their life unfolds – a high school drop out has fewer options than someone educated. A felon returned to society is limited in his or her opportunities. Bad choices have real implications. I suspect that many of the limitations people put on themselves are based on fear – fear of what we don’t understand or what we can’t control. Many people retreat to self made walls seeking protection from the unknown. We become venerable to social engineering, as those with special interest and money can use their resources to shape us using modern media to cause us to become what they want not what we would normally become. Its easy to direct the opinions of those who lack knowledge. This is increasingly true as scientific, political, financial, social concepts become more specialized.