Loving a Lifer

An icon to represent “global thinking”. In the public domain. Author: Benjamin D. Esham (bdesham).

by Anthony J. Marsella

The emergence of a global era — a borderless psychological and physical milieu –confronts us with new and bewildering challenges to identity formation, change, and assertion.

Age-old questions regarding identity — “Who am I?” What do I believe?” “What is my purpose?” “What are my responsibilities?” “How did I become who I am?”– must now be answered amidst a context of unavoidable competing and conflicting global forces that are giving rise to increasing levels of uncertainty, unpredictability, confusion, and fear.

Indeed, many of our traditional political, economic, social, and religious institutions — long a major source for shaping individual and collective identities — have become part of the problems we face in identity formation and negotiation.

The problem of the sense of identity is not, as it is usually understood, merely a philosophical problem, or a problem only concerning our mind and thought. The need to feel a sense of identity stems from the very condition of human existence, and it is the source of the most intense strivings.

Since I cannot remain sane without the sense of “I,” l am driven to do almost anything to acquire this sense. Behind the intense passion for status and conformity is this very need, and it is sometimes even stronger than the need for physical survival.

What could be more obvious than the fact that people are willing to risk their lives, to give up their love, to surrender their freedom, to sacrifice their own thoughts, for the sake of being one of the herd, of conforming, and thus of acquiring a sense of identity, even though it is an illusory one (Fromm, 1955, p. 63).

But amidst this quest for identity — essential to human functioning – we are missing an identification that may be critical for our survival, and that is an identity with life itself. We seem oblivious to the fact that above all things, we are alive, and life deserves our loyalty as much as any other identity we may have or pursue.

We are more than humanity, and we must identify ourselves with more than humanity. We are embedded in life, we are surrounded and immersed in life in millions of ways. It is the most obvious and yet most ignored aspect of our being, and in our ignorance, we fail to see that we are connected, united, linked to so much more beyond ourselves. And that “connection” holds the key to our very nature.

Yet, we find ourselves as human beings assaulting and killing life in all its forms—species are becoming extinct, bio-diversity is declining, global warming is occurring, and there is a depletion of our water, energy, and agricultural resources, and wars and conflict are endemic. I would like to suggest that a solution for many of the challenges we face may be to move beyond our conventional identifications with self, culture, nation, and even humanity, to an identification with life — Lifeism.

Excerpted from an article that originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 17 March 2014. For full article go here: https://www.transcend.org/tms/2014/03/lifeism-beyond-humanity/ .

Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii. Dr. Marsella has promoted cross-cultural understanding and acceptance as a key to peace within and among nations. He has conducted international research for three decades, as a Fulbright Scholar in the Philippines, a project director for a psychiatric epidemiological study in Borneo, a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Culture and Mental Health Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, and a professor of psychology and director of the World Health Organization (WHO) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He is Past President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR).


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3 Responses to Loving a Lifer

  1. Gold Dust Twin says:

    I think it was my kids’ generation much more than mine when they talked a lot about identity. I really like the idea of identifying with all of life rather than just a nationality or religion or political party.

  2. Barbara says:

    Thank you, Dr. Marsella, for your essay. It is interesting to think about an “ism” that isn’t something awful like racism. I tried to think of other isms that might be good, and thought of rationalism. It seems as if “moralism” should be a good thing but I knew it is generally has unpleasant connotations. When I looked up its definition on line, it was “the practice of moralizing, especially showing a tendency to make judgments about others’ morality: ‘the patriotic moralism of many political leaders.'” Definitely not an attribute to embrace. Then, regarding “lifeism,” I started wondering if there should be a related term like “lifehood,” a more expansive version of “brotherhood” and “sisterhood,” which sound like nice, connected touchy-feely types of things. But then I remembered that in the past, some “brotherhoods” have been formed for less than desirable purposes. Sometimes life is a puzzle.

  3. isha3 says:

    Surely, “Lifeism” must be the most rewarding, passionate, all-embracing “ism” of them all. To life, to life, to lifeism! I am happy to be a lifer.

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