Identity Clash

Can you think of some examples from your own experience, or of someone you know, where there was a clash of identity? What happened and can you see how fluctuating notions of identity are still potentially problematic? What does it mean, for you, to be yourself?


Here’s an example of an identity clash.  I lived and traveled on a sailing boat for a few years and often had people join me for a week or two at a time.  No charge, except for food, it was just done on a mutual enjoyment basis.


Now I am not a naturally gregarious individual so this could have put me a long way outside my comfort zone. Even a 40ft yacht is a small confined vessel and it’s not easy to give or take the space you might normally expect, but as it turned out I thoroughly enjoyed the shared experience and I know these transient crewmembers did too.


Although the younger voyagers were always easy to get on with – mostly experienced travellers – the occasional older companion proved problematic.  As you can probably imagine, when underway there can be only one skipper and I’d pretty much decided that was to be me.  Whilst I am, for the most part, reluctant to impose my judgement on others, the sea is a hostile environment and I was responsible for the safety of boat and crew, both morally and legally.


There were only three occasions in four years when ‘identity’ clashes occurred but in each case the problem centred on a misunderstanding over who was who.  For example, crew were not supposed to leave the cockpit when underway without agreeing it with me first and certainly never without being clipped on (with a safety line).  As skipper I was acutely aware of the risk of people falling overboard but sometimes this danger was not well understood by crew.  Once in the water the chances of being rescued lessen dramatically especially at night.


So I had to exert an authority I was uncomfortable with and older crew had to comply when they thought they knew best.  It became a matter of managing expectations.  I now no longer have a boat so my skippering days are probably over, but the lessons learned remain with me.


There is an element of identity collision here, but as with most such instances it’s also about understanding roles.  Although my role was certainly being undermined, it was only the extent to which I allowed this which affected my internally constructed identity.


This question has been the subject of philosophical debate for as long as discussion has taken place and I expect I will return to it frequently through this module.