Conscious Café Singapore group held its monthly meeting on 27th March 2019 to discuss the theme of “Identity and a Need of Belonging”.

The historical evolution of ‘identity’ as a concept in the western hemisphere was presented in a short introduction. In Medieval times, identity was based on a communal and religious affiliation, the communal living and thinking and a blind acceptance of the status quo. The Humanist movement in Italy in 15th century recognised that people possess the mind and intelligence to think for themselves – the “private enlightened conscience”. The alluring new cult of the Self had been discovered. During the Age of Enlightenment, philosopher Locke proposed that identity is a matter of psychological continuity; that when a person is born, the mind is empty – a tabula rasa – which is then shaped by experiences, reflections and sensations. In the 20th century a plethora of views on an individual identity as a correlation between mind and body, as well as development of a social identity theory, was pursued.

Our group discussion started with a few questions: Is our identity our story? How is the access to cyberspace, social media platforms affecting our identity? Does one’s sense of identity influence one’s sense of belonging?

The conversation was immensely enriched by the fact that participants were representing diverse nationalities, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. We shared personal stories that expanded our knowledge and understanding of different historical, social and cultural contexts influencing our individual identities.

We agreed that identity is a story that we constantly construct and embellish in response to changing circumstances in our lives.

With an easy access to cyberspace and social media platforms, we have the opportunity to create digital selves. These projections can reflect our real self or our desired self and the demarcation between these identities can be blurred. Some of us expressed concerns about data protection issues and privacy control when engaged in online activity, and a potential manipulation and for-profit exploitation with increased presence of Artificial Intelligence and its algorithms.

The sense of identity has definitely had an impact on our sense of belonging. Being away for a prolonged period of time from one’s community can make it difficult to “fit in” as it was shared by a few expatriates. It takes an effort to find a mutual acceptance and common ground again. Having an open mind, understanding that life is a constant change, an ability to reflect, an alignment in values and believes, and a capacity to listen and to be heard were listed as some of the attitudes and conditions that positively influence our sense of belonging.