Reflection Point

When different understandings of identity come into conflict with each other it can be quite contentious.

When I moved to a suburban area after living in a student area I was shocked to discover the different expectations now on me to be a good neighbor. In the student area anonymity was the norm but here I was expected to introduce myself and tend to my weeds!

This example is more about collective identity and expectations. You may wish to think about collective or individual identity. 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?


I was born in the mid 1960’s Grew up in the 1970’s and went to work in the 1980’s. My Mother and Father both grew up in a time where education was for the rich and neither of them came from an affluent background. When I was in school the standard of education was far better than it was for my parents and so I left school with more of an education than either of them, however attending University was still the province of the rich.

When I started work at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough I experienced an attitude that looked down on university students as theorists who could not accomplish anything practical, the people seemed to accept they were not cleaver enough to go and there was a distinct animosity for those who did.

Looking back I can see that I developed a prejudice based on this belief system. As time passed I applied my self to the study I was required to do passing more and more exams and qualifications, to a point where I enjoyed climbing the academic ladder. I fell that I ended up being a practical person with an above average intellect and a fairly impressive list of accreditation’s. I went on to co-found a company that was hugely successful I got used to people deferring to me as the subject matter expert.

Imagine now the culture shock I experienced when I joined a prestigious club and found myself standing at the bar with a group of friends who were discussing their public school education. Rather like the craftsmen at the RAE they were running down the poor people who had not been able to attend a public school. Their view was that anyone not in possession of a public school education was in some way sub standard and not as valuable to society.

I listened in disbelief as some of my old RAE prejudice started to bubble to the surface, Looking around the room  I thought not one of them had an ounce of common sense. I was out numbered and the feeling in the room was clearly for the public school boys, it made me feel somehow inadequate even though inside I felt that I was probably smarter than every single one of them.

Age and maturity tells me, that we were all at fault, because we all have our own individual strengths and weaknesses. I was without a doubt arrogant when I was younger, and looking back so were my public school friends friends. The lesson drawn from this is that human nature pushes us to stand tall and push down the competition, it is after all survival of the fittest, dog eat dog. Trouble is its only now that I know that conflict is the worst solution and if these cultural differences were put aside, as human beings we could acheive so much more.

The situation I described left me, a confident man completely out of place and feeling inadequate. At the time I used my arrogance to get through truly believing that I was so much better than the people around me. These days as I said I see through this to the individual strengths and character of the person, which I hope helps me to interact more positively with society, however somewhere inside there still lies the elements that formed the man I am today some of which I hope never surface again.