Identity shouldn't define your purpose

I think 2nd amendment enthusiasts and gun control advocates could uncover some really great policy if they recognized that they share one massive purpose in common: they are both concerned with the safety of their loved ones.

"So what are you?" "Are you a democrat or republican?" "Where are your parents from?"

These are questions I often hear and ask of others. These questions are posed with the purpose of interpreting the other person better, by trying to get at the core of their identity. Why does understanding someone's identity matter? The implicit assumption baked into these questions is that, by knowing these labels, origins, racial histories, we can then get a better sense of what kinds of things the other person must deeply care about.

In the public interest world (grassroots advocacy, volunteering, legislating, etc.), it seems like people focus on social objectives that are shaped largely by their sense of identity. The thought process seems to often go something like: "I am a Democrat and therefore I stand for..." "I am a Mexican-American and therefore I believe..." "I am a gun owner so that means I.."

To me, this feels silly.

Young people spend a lot of time thinking about and talking about identities as if it's a healthy and productive thing to explore, but I think it can also be dangerous in a way that few people are really thinking much about. Purpose and mission should define identity, not the other way around.

Identity can be useful in forming bonds with others. By realizing that someone you meet is also a first generation American, for example, that shared identity would probably more expeditiously beget a conversation and possibly friendship. But what I witness among my peers who are brilliant, kind hearted, and thoughtful, is that their identity is not always healthy or productive or useful in building relationships. Instead, it almost always implicitly reflects an exclusion or rejection of others with a different identity. 

As I continue to think about it, I am beginning to feel more like it's our identities and our caricatures of each other that are divisive. Perhaps exploring each other's mission and purpose would lead to better outcomes.