The process of developing a social self is almost synonymous with having an identity. When members of a particular social group interact in meaningful ways, they synergize influences that shape the extent of sameness that is shared. Consequently, the interaction with significant others, especially with parents and other family members, during the early years provide individuals with experiences that impact on their identity. The identity formed can either contrast or mirror the social model that influences it, depending on the positive or negative impressions gained from the experience.
It is this interaction of like minds that makes possible the many advances of modern society. A productive sector is considered highly effective if interrelated units working at diverse organizational tasks are able to efficiently synchronize their activities to produce goods and service of the highest quality, the lowest cost and in the fastest time possible. Having a clear perception of a meaningful social purpose and being able to share with others make having an identity possible.
The fundamental characteristic of having unique and shared identities is also seen clearly portrayed in nature. It is not often that cats can be seen running around pretending to be dogs, and not very often do we see he-goats acting like ewes. These rare occurrences, when they do happen, are viewed as freaks of nature. Like miracles, they penetrate the box of societal norms and usually find themselves exiled to historic tombs or to mass media that specialize in the bizarre and the extraordinary.
Human beings, in contrast, can change their social experiences at will and can modify their identities to fit the dictates of context and their state of mind. Current trends in human behavior also indicate a major paradigm shift characterized by a morbid fascination for integration. Like the space creatures on science fiction television, they are drifting dangerously close to becoming androids-like creatures with no unique characteristics. People from all ethnic groups, social status and philosophical persuasions are now willing to discard their differences just to fit a social mould. This has significant implication for perceptions of identity.
There is also, in modern cultures, a conscious movement towards integration of male and female roles and the sharing of characteristics once dictated by gender. Men and women now participate in the same social activities, wear the same type of clothes and share the same sexual preferences. No longer is it possible to just look at an individual and be sure that the person is male or female. We live in an age when people have the right to do what they want to do and to become who they want to be.
An integrated modern lifestyle does not only promote loss of identity and raise questions of immorality but there is evidence that the changes generated can have sustained negative repercussions. Without a strong sense of identity, various personality and social disorders can occur. When positive cultural values are suppressed, people are in effect pumping themselves full of psychological bullets that will ultimately lead to social illnesses. In an environment that glorify individuals with no clear-cut sense of what is who they are and what their precise role in society should be, it is no wonder that there is now an identity crisis in progress. No wonder that it has become commonplace to find youths hooked on drugs, hooked on materialism, becoming homosexuals, filling penal institutions, and creating havoc in society.
It was to combat this loss of identity that our ethnic forefathers designed and enforced such elaborate rituals and rites of passage. It is for the same reason that their oral traditions were passed down from generation to generation. It was to keep alive a set of experiences in the minds of their people that identified them for who they were. This type of social cohesiveness was once the heartbeat of a people, the pivot of their daily existence, and the fulcrum of their achievements. In these societies death was preferable to alienation from ones culture and this would inevitably occur once a sense of identity was lost.
Cultivating a sense of identity and restoring practical standards of morality in our social interactions are not optional; they are mandatory. Maybe then individuals will finally see themselves as the unique persons they are instead of creating illusions that, more often than not, rob them of self-worth.