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Three Principles of Personal Identity

1. Do not make your own positive identity dependent upon the negative identity of another person or group.

2. Do not allow the government to determine your personal identity.

3. Your most authentic identity is based upon what you yourself do or think.


Commentary on these principles:


This principle derives from the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” No one wants a negative identity. It is unjust to force this upon another person except as a specific consequence of personal action. To impose a negative role in a story on someone while you have a positive role is an act of aggression against that person. It is a hostile act leading to an unpeaceful world.

Yet, history is often misused in this way. Grudge-bearing history is a prime source of wars. In the interest of a more peaceful and loving community, refrain from casting another in a negative light that you can shine. Project your own positive light to brighten the world.


If government is your master, then, of course, your personal identity is based upon a role assigned to you by the government. In a democracy, however, the people should be masters of the government. The people individually and collectively determine who they are; this should be the source of government policy.

Unfortunately, the reality is that political leaders often set policies to further their own interests. Professing to abhor war, they lead their nations into wars that glorify themselves while the common people die. Therefore, while the war veteran can be personally proud of courageous acts carried out at the direction of government, this is a lesser distinction. A higher form of personal identity is that which comes from self-directed acts. Government, the people’s servant, has no business intruding in this area.


You are what you do or think. If you do something, that becomes a part of your character. For better or worse, you have put yourself into a story. If you have a particular thought, you think it is true. The thought becomes a part of your own belief system. Therefore, your most authentic identity is what comes out of yourself rather than what is given to you.

That said, it must be noted that, up to a certain age, individuals have identities shaped by others, especially their parents. Blind action and thought precede self-conscious understanding. Children imitate other people to receive a sense of direction before awkwardly striking out on their own. This a normal and desirable part of life. If all goes well, one can continue in this mode.

The need for independent judgment arises mainly when things are not going well and a person is forced to make intelligent decisions in response to problems. It is then that self-reflection is invited into life.

When Americans, for instance, find their society dissolving around them, the time may have come to decide what it means to be an American. The American people can then reflect upon and choose a national identity which leads them to a better future instead of allowing others who may not have their interests in mind to decide this.

Action always precedes one’s sense of identity; the latter is what one chooses to accept from this action. It is not healthy to be excessively self-conscious or obsessed with one’s own identity. There needs to be a balance between action and thought.

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