Friday, April 27, 2007

My Identity...My Self

While reading the articles for this week, I was really struck by how complex an idea "identity" or the "self" is. I realized that another sign of my becoming an adult is that I haven't thought about my own identity in some time. Though I wouldn't have necessarily put it into these terms, as a teen I often thought about my various "identities," and how differently I acted in different settings -- for example, how I acted at work versus how I acted at home. I was very shy with co-workers and patrons when I first started as a page in my teens. On the other hand, at home I was talkative, often interrupting people without meaning to because I was used to fast-paced conversations with my friends.

As a teen, this behavior really bothered me because I felt that in some situations, I wasn't really being "myself." I think that genuineness is important to teens I know now, just as it was to me then. I wonder if they struggle, like I did, to define themselves and figure out the difference that Bronwyn Williams notes between "identity" and "self." He writes, "If my sense of self is internal and somewhat stable, my sense of identity is external, socially contingent, and performed. My identity is a shifting and contextual thing. I negotiate and adjust it depending on my social context and the social script I am expected to follow -- my identity may change from one context to the next" (179). I think one of the reasons I worred about my behavior in different social settings was because I wasn't making this distinction -- external vs. internal, social construct vs. integral to me as a person. I wonder if my stress came not so much from feeling like I was acting different from my "self," but from not knowing in which situation I was doing so. Was I really talkative and friendly, or shy and quiet? Which did I want to be? How much choice did I have?

Part of being a teenager isn't just navigating identities, such as daughter, sister, student and employee, but also discovering the self - interests, beliefs, and desires for the future. If I no longer like what interested me as a child, where do my interests lie? Why do my parents/friends/teachers believe as they do, and what do I think? What career do I want? In some ways, a library is a great place to begin such an investigation. Books, both fiction and non-fiction, explore different people, situations, and interests. But I wonder if the library could do a better job in being a place teens feel they are being themselves. Are librarians intimidating or approachable? Does "Can I help you?" sound more like "Why are you here?" Sometimes unintentionally, we give teens the idea that the library is only for serious students and readers, and if they aren't like that, they may feel they have to be someone they aren't in order to be welcomed.

Works Cited:
Williams, Bronwyn T. "The Face in the Mirror, the Person on the Page." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 47.2 (2003): 178-182.

1 comment:

Linda Braun said...

Not only can libraries be a place where teens feel they can be themselves, but they also need to be a place where teens can figure out how they identify themselves.

I hadn't thought about whether or not I think much about my "identity" as an adult. I do know that in different situations I behave differently. That behavior isn't necessarily a part of who I am but a part of getting through the day. ;)

Yet, at the same time, when I learned that it was OK to be me wherever - not worry about how others saw me - then I was more secure in being various sides of me depending on the situation. Does that make sense?