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My identity isn’t your politics.

By Abe Haile

Have you ever wondered how your various identities interact with each other? How does your role as a parent impact your religious beliefs? How about your physical abilities/disabilities and your job title?

During a video series recording with Jenny Medrano (Shift Program Manager at Building Bridges) I got the chance to experience this identity chemistry experiment first hand. I couldn’t believe all the profound ways my identities play with each other behind the scenes of every part of my life.

[Image description: An illustration with a blue background features a large fingerprint in the left of the image. Two large black knitting needles are threaded through the fingerprint, as if it is a ball of yarn. At the bottom of the fingerprint, a strand of yarn extends - as if unrolled from the ball of yarn - to connect with the outline of a person walking in the lower right side of the image.]
[Image description: An illustration with a blue background features a large fingerprint in the left of the image. Two large black knitting needles are threaded through the fingerprint, as if it is a ball of yarn. At the bottom of the fingerprint, a strand of yarn extends – as if unrolled from the ball of yarn – to connect with the outline of a person walking in the lower right side of the image.]

A couple months ago, Jenny asked me to be a guest on her web-series Intersectionality: Let’s Get Real. I initially had no idea what I was signing up for, but as any astute intern, I excitedly accepted the task and saved the worry for my diary. It was probably best I didn’t know all the details ahead of time because I might have bailed had I known what I was walking into.

When I arrived at the filming studio (aka our office meeting room), I saw the professional camera person and the magical identity wheel of destiny. The identity wheel–think mini-Wheel of Fortune–contained several identities including: Race, ability, religion and sexual orientation to name a few. Jenny first asked me to spin the wheel three times. My three spins landed on religion, class and ability. It never occured to me how these identities could possibly affect each other in compounding fashion.

As a 36-year-old full-time graduate student, I very much feel the impact of living lower-income and as a result lower-class. While I have always been inspired by Buddhist teachings, my discussion with Jenny led me to realize my recent experience as a lower-income/ lower class citizen has expedited my decision to fully identify as a Buddhist and to adopt the 5-precepts of a Buddhist layperson. I explained on the talk show, that my necessity to pinch pennies over the last couple of years has dramatically changed the activities I’m able to engage in on my free time. I have found myself devoting a lot more time to consuming thousands of hours of free Buddhist teachings available to all in the form of podcasts and YouTube Videos.

With regard to my abilities, I disclosed how anxiety has been an unwanted guest in my life throughout most of my childhood and my early twenties. Buddhist teachings have  allowed me to experience a much richer life. Now, as a lower-class citizen, I find I am happier than I have ever been in my life thanks to my serendipitous exposure to thousands of hours of wisdom from Buddhist monks all over the world.

If you take a moment to think about how the identities in your life interact with each other, you’ll discover they’ve been the catalysts for much of how you think, act and feel. Every one of my team members at Building Bridges participated in this beautiful exercise and the videos of each one of them can be found at the Building Bridges YouTube Channel. I imagine this exercise can also be completed with identities pulled from a container if you don’t have an identity wheel of your own.

We’d love to hear from you! How do your identities interact and intersect in your daily life? How have you navigated changes in your identities over time? Share with us in the comments!

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