Personal identity is the subject of this free assembly, which focuses specifically on the debate around identity cards and asks pupils to reflect on what is meant by ‘identity’

Summary

This assembly uses the recent news about the possibility of the introduction of national identity cards to look at our awareness of who we are as individuals. It helps us to reflect on who we are.

Resources

Four readers, four large ‘notebooks’ and pens.

Engagement

What is an identity? [Pause] Your identity is what makes you who you are − what makes you unique in the world − an individual. On one level it consists of all the external things about you that can be labelled and written down − your name, your height, your weight, ethnic origins, your appearance, where you live and your medical history. You can also be identified by your National Health number and later by the numbers of your National Insurance card, your driving licence and so on. We could call all these things your ‘outer identity’.

There are plans afoot to issue people in the United Kingdom with electronic identity cards containing all these kinds of details. It has been announced this week that people coming into the country to work will have to apply for them and also airport staff by the end of this year. The government hope that eventually everyone who lives in Britain will have one, making it easier to track down criminals and terrorists − apparently the main reason they are being introduced.

Reflection

Leader: Although this kind of information − which describes who an individual is on the outside − is useful, there is more to the word ‘identity’ than this. We have an outer identity − such as the one contained in the details needed for the government identity card − and an inner one. Growing up seems to be a constant process of finding out who we actually are inside − a journey to find our ‘inner identity’. At school, we find out a lot about ourselves − what we are good at and maybe what we are unlikely to ever be good at! We find out how we feel about other people and how we relate to them − what sort of friends we want to mix with, in fact the sort of person we are and perhaps the sort of person we would like to become. We find out our interests and what our opinions are − about the world, politics, religious beliefs and life in general.

Many of us may be born into families and cultures that practice a particular religion which requires us to live within certain customs and forms of behaviour. As we grow up we might accept these beliefs completely − or question them. We sometimes rebel against the way other people do things because we want to make sure − to experiment and find out things for ourselves. Often our conclusions about our own personalities − our identity, may not coincide with how our parents and teachers think we should be or how they would like us to behave. Hopefully we end up finding our own identity without disturbing too many other people on the way.

We could write down all the outer identity things about ourselves − our names and where we live etc without too much difficulty − but let’s have a look at other things about you that form your inner identity. It’s not so easy. I’d like you all to imagine that these readers are officials who are asking you questions and expecting you to answer them. However, because there are so many of you − and because the answers might prove to be embarrassing − I’d like you to actually be answering the questions in your head and not out loud. Try to answer all of them.

[Readers face audience, holding pen and notebook and pretending to take notes, leaving short pause for ‘thought answers’ in between questions.]

Reader 1: What subject do you like most at school? What teacher do you like best? And least? What subject do you hate most?

Reader 2: What is your favourite food? Colour? Music? Leisure activity? Who is your favourite celebrity?

Reader 3: If you could do anything at all with your life, what would you most like to do? How realistic do you believe that to be?

Reader 4: Who do you love most in the world? Who do you secretly admire? What do you dream about?

Reader 1: Where would you most like to be at this moment?

Reader 2: What would be the best life you could imagine for yourself in the future?

Reader 3: In what way would you change the world if you could?

Reader 4: What’s the most important thing in your life? What do you really believe in?

Leader: Imagining some of your answers, it’s a good job that no one has yet created an ‘inner identity card’ that could reveal all your inner thoughts and feelings!

Response

People don’t always show what they think and feel on the outside. It would cause all sorts of trouble. Imagine this:

Reader 1: Does I look good in this?

Reader 2: No, you look terrible!

Reader 3: Did I make a fool of myself just now?

Reader 4: Yes you did − and no one will ever forget it!

We like expressing who we are and how we feel, but we have to be careful and sensitive. Sometimes it’s important to adjust our own need to express our true selves − to the needs of other people. Otherwise feelings could easily be hurt. Our inner identity is made up of a mass of likes, dislikes, confidences, insecurities, strengths and weaknesses. In the end, only we are capable of knowing who we are inside. It’s important that we remain true to our own inner beliefs − and identity − whatever we choose to show on the outside.

We all have different individual abilities and personalities, which is what helps makes the world and interesting place. Our inner selves include what we believe to be right and wrong. When it comes to the bigger issues, such as our opinions on religious and spiritual beliefs, we can only believe what we really feel, in our experience, to be right.

The following may be said as a prayer or meditation

Leader: Sometimes it is difficult to stand firm in our beliefs, whether they are based on religious or other belief systems. An American scholar called Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

Reader 1: ‘To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.’

Leader: We hope that we will have the strength to be strong and confident within our own inner identities.

Amen

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2008

About the author: Jacquelyn Miles-Windmill

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