Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Should you keep your identity small?

Paul Graham's most recent article makes some astute points. Conversations about people's identities, like religion or politics or programming languages, are very seldom fruitful. In order to have a useful discussion you should avoid those topics. Therefore:
If people can't think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible.
At first this idea in its current conception appealed to me very much. But life is about trade-offs, and this theory is no exception.

If you identify yourself with fewer things, then you will constantly have to make decisions. And as I have recently emphasized, we can only make so many decisions before we become tired and revert to shortcuts that expend the least possible energy.

So you can't keep your identity small, because you will be worn out by making trivial decisions throughout the day. But what you can do is loosely identify with various identities and be constantly open to change.

This policy confers a trade-off too: You might appear inconsistent in your opinions or decisions. So be it--subjugate the ego and strive forward.