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With What Do You Identify? That’s Your Problem.

Whatever you “identify” with, is holding you back from the peace and love you seek. See what I mean in this week’s edition of Isn’t That Ironic?”.

Who Are You?

“Identifying with, or as” has become such a common phrase of late. “I identify as male.” “I identify as female.” “I identify as BIPOC.” And a thousand other identities we can identify with. This is a fundamental problem in our lives, as individuals and as societies. Why is that?

It goes back to the fundamental existential question of life, “Who am I?” We “identify” with that mental image we have of ourselves—our self-concept. Or, as we understand it in spiritual terms, our ego, or egoic mind, or false self.

If you identify with any aspect of your body or your mind, it will lead to division and discord. We see this so much in our world today. Let me start with a couple of examples.


In 1990, my wife and I visited Yugoslavia and spent a delightful day in lovely Sarajevo, site of the 1984 Winter Olympics. We stood in the famous footsteps of Princip, from where he shot the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand to start the First World War. Shortly after our visit, Yugoslavia descended into a bitter civil war. Beautiful Sarajevo was reduced to ruin in a three-year siege and endless street fighting.

At the time, I read a newspaper article that described life inside Sarajevo. A foreign reporter was interviewing a Serbian militiaman at a street barricade. “Why are you fighting?” she asked. “Those are your countrymen. You are all Bosnian.” The man held his AK-47 firmly in one hand, cigarette in the other.

“You see this?” he said. “This is a Serb cigarette. Those men over there, they smoke Moslem cigarettes. We have nothing in common.”

It was comically tragic, or perhaps tragically comic. He identified so strongly with a “thing”, a cigarette, and with a “thought”, the idea that there was some impassable cultural divide between his cigarette and his neighbor’s, between him and his neighbor, that he was willing to murder his fellow man over it. The difference was imperceptible, yet enough to induce him to murder. Over 100,000 people died in this tragic mis-identification.

Cemetery in Sarajevo for people who died during the Bosnian Civil War


Some friends of mine have been involved in resolving family violence and reconciling offenders and victims for many years. They spent some time in Rwanda after the genocide, helping to heal people and communities. Most of us in the rest of the world could not tell the difference between a Hutu and a Tutsi. Both are black-skinned. Their cultures seem identical. They speak the same language. Yet for nearly four months in 1994, Hutus rose up with machetes and rifles to murder almost a million of their Tutsi neighbors and rape a half million of them. Why? They believed the differences in their bodies and thoughts, imperceptible to the rest of us, were so great as to justify mass murder. They became incapable of seeing their neighbors as their brothers. Another tragic mis-identification.

National Memorial to the victims of genocide in Kigali, Rwanda

You might be tempted to call these rare examples. Not really. Extreme, perhaps. But this is the natural end to divisions unless we stop it. If you can hate, you can murder. If you can murder one, you can murder many. There’s no natural end to it. Think of the many mass murders of the past century. All have been caused by “identifying” with the body or the mind, or something to do with the body or the mind.

Hilter murdered all the communists in Germany before he murdered all the Jews. The former murders were justified because of their thoughts, the latter a combination of physical attributes and thoughts. Between 1975 and 1978, Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, murdered almost 2 million of his own people, a quarter of the population, for their “thoughts” alone.

Catholics and protestants killed each other for many centuries of European history. Hindus and Moslems continue to sporadically kill each other in India, even after separating themselves into different countries in the great partition of 1947, in which over a million people were murdered. Chinese communists murdered almost 20 million of their brothers for not be “communist enough” during the Cultural Revolution in the early 1970s. I could go on for many pages.

The root problem is “identifying” with some aspect of your body or your mind. Neither of which are truly “you”. Any such identification is mis-identification.

Who Am I?

You are not your body. Our bodies change. Cells constantly die and are replaced. There’s not a single cell left in your body that was there seven years ago. If you are your body, which body? The body you have now? The body you had as a teenager? The body you will have twenty years from now? All these are completely different bodies. Which one is “you”? None of them. “You” have a body, that constantly changes. But “you” are not your body.

Neither are you your mind. Your mind changes more frequently than your body. I hope your mind doesn’t change as frequently as a teenaged girl having her period, but it changes often enough that I’m sure you can agree it’s not constant. No, you are not your mind either.

You Are Spirit

You are that which finds itself in your body and observes your mind. I recall my grandmother telling me, when she was in her 80s, “You know, I look old. But inside I feel the same as I did as a girl.” That’s the “you”. We call it soul, or spirit. That’s who “you” are. You are an eternal being of light and love. Not your body. Not your mind.

If we want to find peace within ourselves and peace in the world, all of us must stop identifying with our bodies, or anything to do with our bodies, and our minds, or anything to do with our minds.

Only when you realize your true identity, that you are soul/spirit will you come to feel your oneness with all humanity. You will realize the brotherhood of man, because you will realize that you are your brother. Jesus said, “As you do it to the least of these, my brothers, you do it to me,” (Mt 25:40). How can this be? Because your spirit is your brother’s spirit, is Jesus’s spirit, is God’s spirit. In truth, there only is one spirit. We are all one. As you do to the least of your brothers, you do it to yourself.

In the coming days, try holding your “mis-identity” lightly. Yes, you have a body and a mind. You have a job, a role, a profession, a culture, a language, an ideology, a religion. But none of these is you. You are Divine. You are an eternal spirit of light and love. You are one with God. And so is everyone else.

God Bless You!

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