What has four legs, a long nose, two large ears, and a tail, and is immovable?
Could five blind men work together to answer that question?
Early in December of 2017, I saw the elephant in the room. I mean, I think I did.
I was an hour into Derek DelGaudio’s show about identity in the small Daryl Roth theater in Manhattan. Derek’s personal stories were dramatic. They focused on times in his life when he identified as one type of person or another, or felt the need to hide those identities.
Along with those stories, he wowed the audience with his sublime slight of hand. Derek showed the audience his ability to force a card. If you’re unaware, this means a card dealer can choose what card you select, such as the King of Spades, when you think it’s your own free choice. Derek had mastered his card handling and was showing us some incredible moves while discussing identity.
We rarely know ourselves. Many people aren’t comfortable spending time alone. We all pull out our phones to distract ourselves. We read news that confirms our beliefs. We send out messages to friends, hoping for a message back. The ping of our phones give us a hit of dopamine. It feels good to be acknowledged.
As little as we know ourselves, we know just as little about others.
Humans have evolved to quickly judge others for our safety. “The hour between the wolf and the dog,” as Derek puts it, when we must judge without knowing if someone’s a friend or enemy. It can be a dangerous time.
Those initial ideas about another person’s identity are certainly incomplete. In our modern times, there are more tribes than ever before, more Us versus Them. We cling to our identities.
Kahneman taught us, What You See Is All There Is. Our brains can only consider and connect the ideas that we already know. We can’t easily think outside the box in any real sense, we just have different boxes (experiences) than others which allows us to connect ideas differently.
There is so much we don’t understand about cause and effect in this world. Because confusion is uncomfortable, the human brain writes stories to make sense of what we think we know.
My story is not the same understanding as your story. Scott Adams would tell us we’re watching different movies on the same screen. Facts don’t matter when we assemble the information differently, and when our emotional reaction is different to that assembly.
No one has a lock on the truth. We live in different boxes from one another. And each of us lives in many boxes.
As Walt Whitman wrote, “I contain multitudes.”
Identity is fluid, multifaceted, and can be both deep and shallow. People rise to meet the expectations we set for them. Confident people cave to their own negative self talk. Our brain finds confirmation of the ideas we hold about ourselves and others. We’re often blind to the disconfirming evidence.
Confirmation bias propels us forward and focuses our destiny.
Confirmation bias allows us to believe we’re right and just and good people.
We all contain multitudes.
Before entering the theater, audience members had picked an identity from a large selection on the wall.
I had selected a card which read, I Am A Free Thinker.
At the end of this show, I was no longer sure that was the case. Was this card forced on me? What reality was right in front of me that I missed throughout the show?
What illusions do I overlook or accept throughout my life?
I Am A Free Thinker. Can others see this identity in me, or do they see folly and blindness? Who among us is the blind one?
Is this identity only as true as I’m willing to hold it? or others hold me to it?
Am I really an elephant?