The Real Identity Theft
from Stephen Covey’s book The 3rd Alternative
“We hear a lot about identity theft when someone takes your wallet and pretends to be you and uses your credit cards. But the more serious identity theft is to get swallowed up in other people’s definition of you. You get so immersed in external agendas, the cultural story, the political and social pressures, that you lose the sense of who you are and what you could do in life. I call this the ‘real identity’ theft.’ This identity theft is very real and going on all of the time simply because people do not distinguish between their own mind and the mind of the culture.”
As I read this paragraph today I realized that Covey has described a very important part of my personal growth over this last decade. For the last ten years I have spent a great deal of time in pursuit of exactly where I had lost my personal center, how I had lost it and what I could do to regain it back. Though I wouldn’t have described it as “identity theft”, it does provide a beautiful metaphor of my life’s experiences.
External agendas, the cultural stories, and the political and social pressures from my parents, Dean’s parents, our community, school/work, and most of all our church, were very large in my life. I think these forces are simply powerful in all of our lives but what Covey is after here is helping us to understand that those forces should be EXTERNAL instead of INTERNAL. They are outside of us but all too often we adopt them as ourselves to the degree that we don’t even know our own minds anymore. When that happens, our identity is stolen.
When I lived out in Utah, most of these external forces were simply taken away from me. I wasn’t Mormon so no matter what the agenda of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I didn’t have to think of it the way those in the church often did. I grew to highly respect the church, its leaders and its ministries because I daily experienced very good things among the Mormon people. Knowing them made me dig deeper into my own faith in Christ and especially the Bible. I found ample space to ask what seemed like a million questions. I also found ample space to discover my own answers. I actually found faith – my own genuine faith without worry of pleasing anyone else.
While working in Logan, I worked with a lesbian woman. I got to know her and eventually her partner. They became friends of our family and we’re still in touch with them today. No cultural pressures, no external agendas guided me in forming a relationship with Elisha and Ann, my own heart led the way. I would have to say that my personal faith in treating others as I wanted to be treated and loving my neighbor as myself, proved to be ample guidance for me. There is something very solid in using one’s brain and heart together to determine one’s course.
I experienced a new sense of inner strength as I went home for a couple of weeks this month. I no longer felt suffocated by those agendas and forces that surrounded me because I have grown up and realized that they are not ME. I can respect them and see the good in them, but I don’t have to become them in order to be in the world. I do respect the way many of my friends and family members express their values but I no longer felt like a square peg pushing into a round hole. I was free to enjoy genuine friendship and good time with my parents and brother’s family even though they live very differently than I do. I respect them. I love them. I’m just not them. It’s a good place to be.