Personal Identity:

Who are you…? What makes you – you…?

What influences how you think or feel? Where do we form our opinions from? What about our beliefs and attitudes, what shapes them? From where do you learn how you should behave and what is expected of you…?

Is your character set in stone – or do we grow and adapt…?

What about your gender or sexuality? are they fixed… do people fit neatly in to boxes?

It is rare that we give young people the opportunity to reflect on what makes them who they are and what shapes them. How often do we allow them the time to see how they have changed and developed; to explore where we form our ideas from and understand the influences around us.

This is especially important for young people as they move through puberty.

They are naturally becoming more independent, moving away from the influence of their family and forming their own opinions and identities. As this happens their peer group and the media become more and more influential in terms of what is important and how they form their ideas and attitudes.

This is all happening against a backdrop of their bodies changing; experiencing real sexual feelings for the first time –  working out who they fancy, and exploring their first relationships.

This can be a massively confusing and troubling time. Expectations are high and it is difficult when you don’t have all the answers – but feel like you should.


Naturally as teens we try on different identities for size… do we run with the crowd and fit in or do we take the non-conforming attitude and ironically dress like all the other alternative folk!

IMG_0022The music we listen to, the movies and programmes we watch all play a massive part – as does all the other aspects of popular culture… especially the internet and social media. Now Facebook, Instagram and snapchat will tell you how popular, funny and sexy you are – who you are supposed to be and how to perform. Unfortunately, we live in a time when we seem to be anti – everything – trolls hating and berating people in an effort to hide their own insecurities.

It is easy to get lost in all the hype and inconsequential banter and lose track of who you are and what you think as you swallow fake news and the declarations of the trolls.


It is worth allowing young people the opportunity to take stock and explore the notion that they do not have to fit in boxes. That they don’t need to have all the answers and that there is plenty of time to change their minds and work things out. It is up to them to decide what they like, what they think and most importantly how they feel. They are in control and they can decide who they are.

There are a number of interesting thought experiments you can use with groups to explore many of these questions…. the beauty of which – there are no right or wrong answers… how liberating!

For example try this now…

Imagine you wake up one day and the world is suddenly silent. Every building, every object is exactly how it was the night before – except now there is no one else here. You find yourself the last human being on the planet. The shops all remained fully stocked and there is no longer anyone to prevent you going where you like, or doing what you want. Yes this is quite scary prospect – but also opens many possibilities too…

Without anyone else to see or impress – how would you dress? What clothes would you wear?

Where would you live…? All the buildings are now empty – no matter where you go… you can live anywhere you like…

How would you pass the time? How would you cope in your own company…?

Obviously, this is complete fantasy and a ridiculous notion. You will not wake up one day and find you are the last human being on earth. However, these thought experiments are used by philosophers as a useful means of exploring ideas and concept in practice.

In this case, most likely to begin with you would enjoy spending time going to the most expensive shops, trying on the top brands – now money is no object -but how quickly would these clothes lose their shine. With no one else to impress – how long before you start to dress for comfort and ease rather than merely following fashion…

If you could live anywhere – you may decide to live in a palace or an mansion – but after a while, would it not be easier and more comfortable to live in a modest little cottage perhaps…?

If there were not other people to impress or judge us – what would truly be important to us…?

Exploring these existential problems can be really good fun and a really useful way to help young people reflect and think about what is important to them – and ultimately what makes them who they are.

To find out more about what makes up your personal identity follow the links below: 

Click here for a list of other thought experiments & Ethics starting points

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