Icebergs and Identity

Source: Uwe Kils (Attribution 

I’ve often used the model of an iceberg in reflecting on identity. The most striking feature of an iceberg and perhaps the most often drawn analogy; how the majority of it is in fact ‘below the surface.’ Only a small fraction of an iceberg is readily perceived; the lesson being that perceptions can easily belie reality and one should be wary of making such a monumental error. Likewise, in perceiving only the outward manifestation of one’s identity, the so called ‘tip of the iceberg,’ one is often unaware of the full reality of what that identity comprises.

What lies beneath is the cultural context one is nurtured in; one’s faith, nationality, childhood experiences, personality traits and so on. All these inner realities shape the outward form of one’s identity; the clothes they wear, the language they use, the people they associate with, etc.

On deeper refection the metaphor has more to offer us. An iceberg is deep, complex and often in flux. Its infinite facets give every iceberg a unique size, shape and buoyancy. Moreover each facet tells a different story depending from which angle it is beheld and indeed how the sunlight reflects upon it. Likewise people’s identities are unique and multi-faceted and can be perceived differently depending from how and by whom they are being witnessed.

Just as much of the iceberg is below the surface, much of the iceberg is hidden within itself. Similarly it takes years of careful, sensitive exploration to appreciate the depths of one’s own identity and how those inner depths shape one’s outward reality. These innermost depths are often foundational and may not change once they have been established. However that which is exposed is constantly being formed and re-formed; by the metaphorical winds, seas, sunshine and rainfall. It can be said that there are parts to our identity that remain by and large fixed whereas there are other dimensions which are more fluid and are constantly in a state of negotiation.

I feel faith communities have much to benefit from in deeply reflecting on this model, as so much of our work can relate to it. Whilst training and facilitation helps one understand and explore that which may lie beneath the surface, cultural programming looks at the points of flux and fluidity, where we quite literally see the precipitation of newly formed identity through, for example, artistic expression and intimate and challenging conversations.

The iceberg model asks us to think holistically, strive to be relevant to both tradition and dynamism and most of all, to stay afloat.

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