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What is Identity and How Does it Factor Into Community?

While identity seems to be at the forefront of media and debates more and more every day, a historically human issue. The use of the word “identity” to define self only originated in the 40s and 50s. The idea of identity, on the other hand, has been around since the beginning of civilization. The question of who you are and how the world around you influences that, only partly defines the concept. So, what is identity? Let’s take a closer look at what it is and how it pertains to the community. 

Defining Identity

Identity is an extremely complex concept. It won’t be summed up in a single sentence. In fact, it is a big, messy concept because humans live big, messy lives. It encompasses our relationships, memories, experiences, values, and more. 

Psychology Today states that identity encompasses the values people hold, dictating the choices they make. Identity is comprised of the many roles we play: parent, friend, teacher, boss, citizen, and more beyond that. Each role gives us meaning, creating expectations that we internalize as identity. It’s a constantly changing internal state that will continue to morph and transform as we age. 

Three main concepts generally tend to drive identity formation. First, discovering and developing potential, second, deciding on a life purpose, and third, exercising the potential and purpose. It is heavily influenced by the community you are raised in. It also happens to be influenced by how you experiment and push against your childhood boundaries. 

Understanding Gender Identity 

It’s important to understand, especially to avoid alienating your audience, that identity, and gender aren’t interchangeable. Your personal identity might develop in part to your gender. They are not the same, but not mutually exclusive either. Gender and biological sex, additionally, aren’t synonymous. 

Biologically, there are men and women. Gender identity is an individual’s self-conception of one, both, or neither of the two. Depending on the person, it stand firm, or fluctuate. Many argue that gender is a social construct, while others propose it’s something we are born with. It is a sensitive topic for many, so err on the side of caution and tread lightly. 

Navigating Identity Politics within Community

Please keep in mind that identity politics is not a game to play. If you are going to engage with community members over how they identify, take it seriously, because they do. As children, the community that raises someone strongly affects who they become. As adults, people choose communities they want to strongly support them. If someone has chosen to join your community, do not betray their trust by disrespecting their concerns and values. 

People who have similar values and identify with each other make up an online community. Many of those values will pertain to gender and other identity politics. As a result, it is important to hire a community manager who can help discussions stay civil and accepting of all sides. You don’t want your members or staff alienating each other over sensitive topics. 

It’s also essential to be open to learning more as a brand. Sometimes people undoubtedly make mistakes or are ignorant of issues. Finally, always address concerns from community members with a spirit of learning and a willingness to do better in the future. 


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