My cellphone, car, and job don’t define me

Originally appeared on

When my friends and I were young and attending primary school in Kenya, where I live, our parents used to ask us what we would like to be when we grew up. We would answer and say we wanted to be doctors, or police officers, and mention all kinds of professions, even if we did not know what all of them meant! It seemed as though many adults defined themselves by their profession. Although it was never spoken of, there was a kind of assumption that if you did not have a job like this, then you were a “nobody.”

I’ve noticed that in the city where I live, many people define themselves by their job or car, and they define their social status by what they own. For example, recently a newspaper carried an advertisement for a luxury car with the statement “the car that defines you.” And I’ve observed that it is not just young people who struggle with the question of identity. For example, many single people are in a hurry to have children in order to be identified as a mother or father. And in the streets or at a restaurant in Nairobi during the football season, you are expected to be loyal to a certain English football club.

As I’ve learned through studying Christian Science more about my spiritual identity as a child of God, I can see how identifying oneself in strictly material terms is not helpful for our spiritual development. It can also inhibit our understanding of humanity as a whole. For example, we often identify ourselves by what country we are from. But I like something that Martin Luther, an early Christian reformer, said. He said that “blind patriotism” can be harmful because it often leads to violence. And a few years ago, an astronaut who was born in India, but grew up in America, was asked how she viewed her nationality. She said that she sees herself as “a citizen of the universe.” How accurate this is! How important, then, to think of oneself in higher terms than just as a citizen of a particular nation.

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