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Identities that Poison the Soul

By Ken Wert

We often put stock in things that undermine our own lives. Believing the insignificant to be significant undermines opportunity, confidence and happiness.

It will be that proverbial poison that shuts down the immune system, corrupting heart, mind and soul as it spreads through your psychology as you drink of the following poisons of identity.

1. Race

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

In an era of ethnic clubs and dorms and hyphenated identities, race is alive and well as a social distinction today. That's a shame. I even remember years ago when Oprah scolded a woman in her audience who no longer saw the talk show host as a Black woman. Oprah had become nothing more than a person to her. She no longer saw her through eyes of racial classification.

Why was she scolded? Oprah told her that she was denying her an important part of her identity. That too is a shame.

Let me make crystal clear what I'm not saying here: I'm not saying culture doesn't matter. It does. Culture conveys values and religion, husband-wife relations and how kids should be raised. But race only conveys DNA variants across groups.

Racial Identity is a poison that infects individuals and civilizations alike.

I married outside my race. Why? Because race is meaningless to me. I fell in love with a girl named Jane. Had Jane been White, I would be married to a White woman. Had she been Black, I would be married to a Black woman. But she wasn't. She's Chinese.

My children are therefore biracial. But I don't want my children to identify with their Chinese-ness any more than I want them to identify with their Caucasian-ness. They did nothing to become Chinese or White. They accomplished nothing. They became nothing. They earned nothing.

I don't want their sense of identity rooted in the flimsiness of genetic accident. That's not much of a foundation upon which to build an identity, much less a moral or happy life.

Instead, I want my kids to identify with their decency, their values, their faith, their hearts, minds, and souls.

I want their character to speak to the world of who they are; not heir skin. I truly ache for Martin Luther King Jr's dream to be fulfilled that the color of a person's skin does not matter whatsoever, that the content of their character is that by which they will be assessed.

To say your skin is of a particular color and hue is to say nothing more than that your skin is of a particular color and hue. Skin color or race says nothing more to me about you than the width of your kneecaps or the length of your eye lashes.

It's simply unimportant data, meaningless on all levels other than physical description. Those who believed otherwise, who drank the bitter poison of racial significance are known historically as Nazis and slave owners, carrying the banner of Apartheid while marching toward the horror of ethnic cleansing.

That's a banner I will not hold no matter the words printed on it. And that's a march I will oppose with everything I am.

I hope that's true of you too.

2. I.Q.

"I am not the smartest, but I surround myself with competent people." ~ Henry Ford

I don't know my IQ and don't care. I'll never take an IQ test because I believe it falsely builds hope in those whose IQs are high and character is low and falsely denigrates those with relatively low I.Qs but are hard workers who are willing to take risks and surround themselves with smart people.

"Success is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration." ~ Alexander Watts

In the end, I.Q. is overrated. It shouldn't be. It's not predictive of outcome or success.

I've known brilliant lazy people who went nowhere because they rested on their laurels and their reputation of brilliance.

I've seen it over and over again. They ease their way through high school with high grades, then party through college and learn next to nothing. They get jobs, never quite entering their dreamed-of careers. And so they wither on the vine of their potential and possibility.

While there seems to be a minimal IQ for success as CEOs and doctors and therapists, there is no such required minimum for kindness, love, gratitude and happiness.

And which ones you decide matters most is telling, perhaps even predictive of what you may achieve in life, but also of what will more likely be compromised in its pursuit.

3. Wealth

If you tell me how much you're worth, I can make some pretty good guesses about your productivity or expertise or investment acumen, perhaps your time management and proclivity for proactivity and risk tolerance.

But it won't tell me anything about your soul or your commitment to family and friends or your integrity or character or self-respect or happiness.

In other words, while your wealth may provide some insight into parts of you, the most important defining characteristics of who a person is are left dim at best.

"No man can tell whether he is rich or poor by turning to his ledger. It is the heart that makes a man rich. He is rich or poor according to what he is, not according to what he has." ~ Henry Ward Beecher

In the end, the quality of our character, the extent to which we've loved others and the degree to which we've touched others' lives matters more than the weight of our bill folds or the number of zeros on our bank statements or the value of our investment portfolios.

Don't get me wrong, if wealth came knocking at my door, I would open wide to let it in. I'll work hard to keep it. I'll be grateful for it. But I won't sacrifice the integrity of my family to get it. I won't compromise my values for it. I won't sell my soul to keep it. And that's the point. There are things that are simply important. There are other things that are not. Wealth, while nice, still falls into the latter category.

4. Fame

Fame, unfortunately, does not necessarily favor the worthy. Both Mother Teresa and Paris Hilton are household names. The profound and the foolish are both remembered, sometimes the foolish much longer. Kim Kardashian is known. Dr. Joseph Rizzo, inventor of the retinal implant that restores sight to the blind is not.

"Fame is like a river, that beareth up things light and swollen, and drowns things weighty and solid." ~ Sir Francis Bacon

Others never acquired much recognition during their lives at all. J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and The Hobbit never saw the fame that would come after his death.

Vincent Van Gogh painted over 2,000 works of art. He sold only two during his short lifetime. His works sell for millions today.

Henry David Thoreau was similarly unappreciated by his contemporaries as a struggling author. Even Bach was far less appreciated than he is today. As a composer he was largely ignored.

As a teacher on a high school campus, I see longed-for popularity every day. Some put great stock in it. I like Bill Gates' comment to a graduating class when he counseled them to be nice to nerds. He reminded them that they will likely be working for one someday. Kinda puts it all in perspective, doesn't it!

Gaining people's respect is praiseworthy. Amassing their unearned adoration has often led to delusions of importance, pride, a sense of entitlement, self-destructive behavior and addictions. Both Hollywood and the music industry are replete with such stories too numerous, too obvious and too tragic to require elaboration.


Believing the unimportant is important is something like spinning your car wheels in the sand. You're very quickly going nowhere. Life is on hold, at least to the degree the unimportant distracts you from the important.

Let me clarify something here before I end: What shirt or dress or shoes you wear might matter to you. I have no problem with that. But it doesn't mean that fashion has inherent significance.

It might matter to you whether you play guitar or the flute. But objectively it just doesn't matter one way or the other. It is on that level that I claim race, IQ, wealth and fame to be meaningless distractions that rob us of the meatier things of life if we let them.

Our happiness is affected by the way we live and think and believe. Some thoughts and beliefs and ways of living are uplifting, empowering and consistent with universal principles and lend themselves to successful, happy lives.

Others are false and petty, disconnected from life-affirming principles of universal value. One set leads to greatness. The other leads to being little, consumed by the insignificant, spinning wheels in the sand traps of life, letting the poison of bad ideas spread deeper and further through their system.

I recommend the former.


What do you think? Do you agree? What other beliefs and ideas act like vials of poison and ill-placed kicks to the softer parts?

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