Separating Identity and Ideas

By Kevin Wiebe

“I don’t have many friends because most people think I’m a jerk.”
I was a bit taken aback by the surprisingly blunt way my new neighbour introduced himself. I casually but curiously responded by saying, “Oh? Why is that?”

“It’s because I separate ideas and identity. Most people get offended when you critique their ideas because they tie their identity to their ideas. I don’t do that, so when I tear apart someone’s idea, I’m not saying they’re a terrible person, just that I think their idea is terrible. But most people just think I’m being a jerk.”

“Good to know,” I responded, and truly it was. This person became a good friend in the months and years that followed, and I came to greatly respect and appreciate his brutal honesty about ideas. It truly helped form me into someone who thinks more carefully.

Indeed, it seems building our identity upon our own ideas surely is problematic, because when those ideas are challenged, or our ideas prove to have some blind spots, it becomes a challenge to the very fabric of the identity we have built instead of an opportunity to grow or make our ideas better.

One of the profound things about Christianity is that it invites us to build our identities upon the truth that we are made in God’s image, and on the sufficiency of the work of Jesus—both unshakeable truths. We can count on these truths to be true no matter how inaccurate our other ideas may be.

It can be profoundly liberating to be given this as the foundation for our identity. Yet, as my new friend so bluntly demonstrated, completely disregarding the tendency of people to connect their ideas and identities can be an incredibly lonely practice.

Yes, I believe my friend is right—we need to have a better foundation for our identity than the sufficiency of our own ideas. This allows us freedom to improve our ways of thinking, and opens our minds to the possibility we might be wrong on some things—and it’s okay to be on a journey in this regard and not be perfect yet.

Kevin Wiebe

I also believe, however, that we are not obligated to confront every idea we disagree with, and sometimes maintaining a friendship with someone we disagree with is more important than convincing them of a particular idea. Even when the idea is the unshakeable truth of the gospel, we will lose all opportunities to walk with them if we push them away. I am still learning how to do this well, but it is a pursuit that I believe is well worth the time and effort.

2 thoughts on “Separating Identity and Ideas”

  1. Yes, so true Kevin. The Bible also tells us to treat others the way we want to be treated, so we must question that in our relationships. Would I appreciate it if someone critiqued my every idea & only told me the negative things about it? I probably wouldn’t. However, it might also spare me from costly mistakes in following through every idea. Being honest is a hard job, & those who do it are risking the loss or lack of friendships. Within the body of Christ, they are crucial to the well-being of the church.

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