Why do humans search for identity

Perhaps the first and best place to begin addressing these topics is by acknowledging that in a country like South Africa, there is not one heritage, or an easily delineated set of distinct identities. The cultures, languages and heritages of South Africa are multiple, diverse, and dynamic. This is especially true in the wake of segregationsit Apartheid policies which attempted to divide and conquer the majority of the country's population by emphasising the ontological immiscibility of different races.

South Africa is heir to a legacy of autochthonous livelihoods see, most famously, the Khoi and the San as well as Bantu immigration; slavery ; colonisation; settler economies ; and liberation movements. These histories have all had a drastic effect on the make up of South Africa's population. Yet somehow through the interchange of cultures and sharing of cultural influences in the age of globalisation, there defiantly remains a tapestry of phenomena which can identifiably and unabmiguously to termed 'South Africa.

Like 'heritage' and 'identity,' 'culture' is a term that causes much confusion and suffers from its misuse. Traditionally it has been used to refer to the ways of life of a specific group of people, including various ways of behaving, belief systems, values, customs, dress, personal decoration, social relationships, religion, symbols and codes.

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The pitfalls of the term are however, considerable. For instance, it is not unusal for European visitors to South Africa or Africa at large, to innocently enquire into the nature of "African Culture. Even to ask about 'Zulu culture' is potentially wide of the mark, given how varied and dynamic the Zulu population is.

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While it is a stretch of the imagination to state that culture simply does not exist, as has been claimed by certain postmodern intellectuals, it remains difficult to reach a consensus about what the term really denotes. Is there such a thing as 'White culture' or 'Coloured culture,' for instance?

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Throughout history, various people and institutions have attempted to define what is meant by culture. In , one of the fathers of British social anthropology, Edward Burnett Tylor attempted to describe it in the following way: "Culture or civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.

In South Africa, the question of definition according to race and culture carries an especially sharp edge to it, which potentially makes it a more contentious issue here than elsewhere. This is primarily due to the policies of the Apartheid government that sought to distinguish and segregate the country according to rigid definitions of race between These policies reached their apotheosis in the establishment of the 'Bantustans,' which were created as homelands for the major different ethnic groups represented within South Africa's borders.

For this reason, subsequent attempts to define the people of South Africa may easily carry an unpleasant connotation of racist categorisation from the past. With this proviso, South Africa has a hugely diverse population, representative of a vast spectrum of different languages, practices, and values. South Africa has been famously referred to as the rainbow nation because it is made up of so many diverse cultures and religions.

This is part of the healing that democracy has brought after culture was used to divide South Africans in the past. Identity, like culture, is ever changing. For example a person can be a teacher, parent, spouse and driver to their children, as well as being a famous politician fighting for justice or a farmer growing crops for food. To this person it is possible to be all of these and much more.

At the same time being a person of a particular race or class also influences one's identity. When people speak of 'intersectionality,' they are broadly referring to this way that a single person can be at the intersection of multiple different social identities. The experiences of a White, heterosexual, urban, and middle-class mother, for instance, will be vastly different to that of a Black, homosexual, rural, and working class single woman. Identity, in short, is made up of a multitude of factors and an individual is both subject to their circumstance and an agent able to influence which parts of themselves they present to the world.

Heritage might be best broken up into two types: natural and cultural. Areas that are very special and where animals or plants are in danger of extinction like the St. They are respected and internationally protected against harm. Cultural heritage, on the other hand, can be an altogether more contentious issue.

Normally, the term 'cultural heritage' is used to describe those things that contribute to the sense of identity of a particular population or community of people.


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These can be special monuments, like a building, sculpture, painting, a cave dwelling or anything important because of its history, artistic or scientific value. The area in which this can become problematic is when a part of somebody's cultural heritage seems to clash directly with the dignity of another person's, or where it appears to transgress established global human rights practices as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Specifically, studies find that when people are exposed to stimuli that remind them of their mortality, they exhibit increased investment in the social and cultural identities that provide meaning and perceptions of death-transcendence.

For example, having people contemplate mortality increases their desire to have children, level of patriotism, religious faith and commitment to romantic partners. In short, heightening the awareness of death heightens efforts to find and preserve transcendent meaning. Similarly, meaning mitigates the threat of death awareness. For example, studies show that having people think about death increases fear of death. However, this effect is only observed among those who do not perceive their lives as meaningful.

Why Do We Search For Meaning?

People who have meaning are not as terrified about the fact that they are mortal. There may actually be a number of reasons that people need meaning. People want to be more than mere mortal beings who die and disappear forever.

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Identity and the Search for a Common Human Purpose by Matthew Weinberg

To feel meaningful is to feel like you made a lasting mark, a contribution that will endure beyond your death. To feel meaningful is to feel immortal. And there are many practical benefits to existential security as studies have identified a number of ways that meaning contributes to mental and physical health. Consider the following examples. Meaning Helps People Cope with Life Challenges : Becoming ill or having to face a major life challenge such as job loss or the death of a loved one is difficult for everyone. However, research indicates that people who report having a strong sense of meaning in life are better able to cope with these mentally and physically taxing experiences.

Meaning motivates. It makes people want to productively move forward in life.


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Meaning Reduces the Risk of Mental Illness: Many studies indicate that people who believe their lives are full of meaning and purpose are less likely to suffer from mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders and less inclined to engage in problematic behavior such as excessive drinking. And studies show that when people do struggle from mental illness, finding meaning can improve the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions.

Meaning not only helps people cope with difficulties in life, it also promotes psychological health. Meaning Contributes to Successful Aging: A number of studies have established a strong link between meaning in life and quality of life among older adults. Older adults who perceive their lives as meaningful are physically and mentally healthier than those who perceive their lives as having little or no meaning.

Physical Changes in Adolescence

Meaning in life is also associated with decreased fear of death among older adults. Meaning Reduces the Risk of Mortality: Emerging research further highlights the importance of meaning by revealing that people who report having a strong sense of purpose in life live longer. In fact, across all adult age groups, purpose is associated with mortality. Even among young adults, the greater your sense of purpose, the less likely you are to die. A Growing Field This is just a small sample of the ever-growing scientific literature on the psychology of meaning.

It was too warm and fuzzy. But as the field continues to evolve and thrive as a science-based enterprise, researchers are beginning to feel more comfortable using the tools of science to explore fundamental questions about our existential nature. Humans are meaning-making animals and scientists are just now beginning to fully understand just how important the meaning motive is for adaptive functioning. The views expressed are those of the author s and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

He is a leading expert in the area of experimental existential psychology.

He regularly publishes his work in the top psychology journals, recently co-edited a book on the scientific study of meaning in life, and authored the book Nostalgia: A Psychological Resource. He also regularly serves as an expert guest on national and international radio programs. The New Yorker. Routledge writes a popular online column for Psychology Today called More Than Mortal, has served as a guest blogger for Scientific American, and frequently serves as a guest expert for national and international radio programs.

You have free article s left. Already a subscriber? Sign in. See Subscription Options. Clay Routledge Dr. Get smart.