In part one and two of my recent blog series, I have been discussing what lies deeper than a person’s world-view. I have argued that it is what I call the person’s core identity. A person’s core identity involves the deepest sense the person has of who she is or who she longs to be. One’s core identity often serves as the fulcrum for changes in one’s other values. Deep value change usually occurs along the contours of core identity.
The notion that each of us has a core identity raises at least two important questions. First, how is it that our core identities are formed? Second, how does change in our core identities come about? The picture I have presented up to this point seems to imply that our core identities are fixed. This notion cannot be completely accurate.
Core identities are formed, I think, as we inhabit certain belief and value structures over time. We begin to inhabit beliefs and values at a very young age. As we grow, we develop patterns of ordering our choices, other beliefs, values, goals and interests around these deeper ones. Each time we shape our surface beliefs and values around our deeper ones, the deeper ones become even more deeply entrenched. In a sense, we habituate ourselves into our core identities by the practice of changing our other beliefs and values in light of them.
Given this account, we can see how it is possible to undergo changes in our core identities. Such a change may occur through our experience of dissonance. An event may trigger a sudden confrontation with this dissonance or we may become aware of it through conscious reflection. In either case, we may determine that some belief or value that functioned within our core identity ought to be revised in light of other beliefs and values. We may recognize that we have a deeply ingrained habit that we want to change. This habit may be revealed in our relationships with others or our thoughts about our own lives. Beginning such change will be difficult, in part, because we are changing against the contour of our deeper values. We have to re-habituate ourselves to inhabit a new ordering of values and beliefs.
When we think about Christian discipleship, we need to think in terms of shaping our core identities. As a result, we face the question: How do we bring Jesus into our core identities? I will make some suggestions in a future blog post.