Identity as What’s Different, as Opposed to What’s Similiar


I get stricken a lot.

I like to start off saying things when it comes to general semantics by saying “It strikes me that …”  Today is no exception.

Today it strikes me that the word “identity” has two diabolically opposing meanings.

I recently had a meeting with an agent. It felt as if on the surface it went generically how I wanted it to go, but I left feeling a profound amount of rejection.  The feeling was as if what I said during the meeting amounted to a turnoff.  I’m not exactly sure why it went as it did or felt as it did (something to do with the concluding facial expression of the agent), but it was a sharp reaction I had.  It was confounded by the non-glance from the person with whom I did the audition as I left her, as if she couldn’t bring herself to look at me when I said goodbye.  Honestly, she was in the mirror doing her makeup.

I can’t explain what really happened in the meeting.  For all I know, it went superbly well in the agent’s eyes and my scene partner was highly impressed with my work with her.  For that reason, it’s not really worth trying to figure out exactly what happened because I probably will never figure it out.  Speculation is wasteful energy for me.

But one thing I did wonder was, Was my identity lacking?

In these kinds of meetings, I enter the room assuming it’s obvious I’m an actor.  However, the people who preceded me looked like a mother-daughter combination.  What were they?  Were they mother and daughter?  Were they both actors?  How did they distinguish themselves?

Notice that last question:

“How did they distinguish themselves?”

Our identities are essentially how we distinguish ourselves from the multitude of sameness we swim in.  I’m a white guy, but my identity helps to distinguish me from all the other white guys.  I’m an actor, but my identity helps to distinguish me from all the other white guys.  My identity helps me to stand out.  My identity is how I characterize myself apart from all the others.

Notice, though, something quite peculiar: This meaning for the word “identity” is completely opposite the meaning Alfred Korzybski assigns to the word in general semantics.  He defines the word “identity” as “absolute sameness in all respects.”  So, we have one sense of the word “identity” meaning “absolutely the same,” and another sense of the word “identity” meaning “what is differentiating.”  In the korzybskian sense of the term, true identity contains nothing differentiating.  But in the daily use of the term, that’s mainly what it contains: what’s differential.

The recent meeting made me wonder if my identity lacked as I entered that room.  Maybe a mother and daughter entering a room before me makes it confusing who or what I am when I enter the room.  Am I an actor?  Am I some guy who is trying out acting?  Do I bring something else to the table?  Am I am athlete?  Am I an improv comedian?  Am I something totally different?

So I then began to think about my website.  In designing my website, I consciously knew the value of expressing my identity.  This is what I have had up from December until early today:

I’m an actor, a writer, and a teacher of both long-form improv and general semantics. Not your average dude.

If you clicked on the passage, you’d reveal a hidden passage, which shared with the visitor what you might call my less visible, more hidden identity:

I’m also a marathon runner, a webmaster, and sometimes I sleep.

I’ve been reevaluating my goals as an actor in the last few days.  With reevaluating my goals comes a reorganization of my life around those goals, as well as a shift in my values.  But also comes a shift in my identity.  In light of my recent agent meeting and my sad feelings about how it went, I turn again to this identity on my website.  I feel charged to change it.  And I also feel charged to ensure that when I have my next agent meeting, my identity shines through unquestionably.

So here is what I am planning to put up on my website:

I’m an actor, athlete, and improv comedian.  I’m also a writer and teacher of both long-form improv and general semantics. Definitely not your average dude.

It’s still to be seen how this will evolve.  But I tend to think in light of my recent meeting that this will help position me and differentiate me in these meetings.  It is not all that non-standard a description of an actor.  But I’m hoping it will position me in the head of the next agent I meet.  Instead of just this guy who does a scene and talks about what he’s done, I put out exactly how I see myself and focus the agent around that concept of me.  The first sentence is most important to my career.  The second sentence just rounds out my life.

With a change in identity comes a reorganization of my career and my life.  On a smaller scale, with a change in identity comes a reorganization of my website.  I see that I designed my website around my first identity.  With my newer identity, the design and organization of my website may need to shift.

I’ve pointed out the need in general semantics to differentiate ises of identity into the is of equation and the is of representation.  In light of the above, I think a better term than “is of representation” is “is of differentiation.”  It is a nice opposite to the term “is of equation.”  And it helps to point out just how problematic the term “is of identity” is in general semantics: Does it always mean equality, or might it at times imply inequality?

In light of all of the above, it definitely can imply inequality.

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