There's a theme in many stories, especially princess movies and superhero comics of an alter ego. In Cinderella she is a servant in the eyes of her step mother and sister and then suddenly a princess in the eyes of the prince and all other at the infamous ball. Mulan is a common girl turns in to a male warrior by a little ambition and a change of outfit. Superman a hero who saves earth from its daily threats but is know by most as Clark Kent the reporter. And Batman the dark knight also a superhero is known commonly as Bruce Wayne the billionaire playboy. Lastly of my examples a story from the Quran (and bible) of Yusuf: When his brothers saw him rich and powerful in the land of Egypt they did not recognize him.
How do these character represent the complexities of identity. It a joke that many of us have probably washed away. How could you not recognize someone just because they change there clothes? Remember in Cinderella (the version with brandy) when the step sisters come back from the ball and she starts singing and imagining how the ball (that she of course went to) would have been. In the end she does a curtsy the same way she did at the ball and the step mother rages "the thought of you with the prince is laughable", "why" says Cinderella, "because your common .... and you'll always be common!"
The issue here, the larger picture as stated so clearly in this movie is the way people see us and the way we see ourselves. IN the movies and stories its not simply the change of clothes but it is a change in the role the character plays in the story. Who was once common is now beautiful, who was once a selfish and inconsiderate is now a hero, who was once weak is now powerful. It is such a large incongruence that outsiders cannot the character as one full person with the ability to leap in to different interests as a full person.
When others become so use to seeing us in one state it becomes nearly impossible for them to see us in any other way. We do this all the time in real life, we see people how we chose to see them and what we find convenient. Like the father who still sees his adult daughter as his little girl. Or the mother who sees her grown son as her little boy.
So how do we allow people to see our full selves, how do we live up to our ideals, is it healthy to have alternate identities. It is important to show your true self and be your true self but it is also important to wisely chose who to show yourself to. In the Dark Knight, Rachel, his love interest and Geoffrey, his butler both know of his identities. He trust them and they don't betray him. But how do we know who these people are that can be trusted? What character traits do they display? Well, first and foremost we know we can trust in God since God knows us completely and therefore does not find any discrepancies between different aspects of our identities. But who can we trust after God, friends? Coworkers? Mother? Father? Siblings?
Ideally we should and can judge people from there previous decisions and actions? When ask your sibling for help could you depend on them? When you told you friend secret did she keep it to herself? When you asked your parent for advice where they helpful? These are the answers that will help you decide who you can share yourself with and who you should be more sheltered with.
But what if were are unsure of ourselves. Many people get so caught up in one identity they don't realize how badly that are hurting there potential as a full human being. For example women use to be seen primarily as caretakers now we have completely thrown ourselves careers and are beginning to be seen as equals to our male counterparts. But each role has its disadvantages. If we are seen primarily as caretakers then how can women who want to work been seen as vital and productive to the workplace. But if we are seen primarily as workers then how can we be seen as useful and help to society if we chose to solely be caretakers? If we as women showed men that we are full people with different interest and are perfectly able of carrying out one or the other or any other responsibilities.
This characterisation is true for groups as it is for people. So you want to be a dancer but your in medical school -who says you can't do both? Being a doctor or being a dancer should not be the fullness of who you are, these are only segments of our lives. When we come back to Allah we will be asked if we believed in one God and his prophets, if we where upright and moral people. But whether or not where professional a doctor or a teacher, a mother of two or a father of five, took vacations every summer or not -are these the kinds of things that will effect our moral standing?
In anything we chose to do we have to do with integrity and morality but we can't limit ourselves out of fear of breaking expectations of others. Was not Yusuf the keeper of storehouses, a wisemen, a prophet? Was not Ayesha the prophets wife, a soldier, and an academic? Is not Barack Obama a husband, father, a basketball player and the president?
When our identities conflict with each other then it is necessary for us to find some congruence between these persons that we both claim as our own. For batman his two identities were becoming burdens because they were moral opposites was he a playboy who only cared about himself, or was he a superhero who carried the weight of the world on his soldiers and saved the innocent. For Spiderman his personalities where conflicting was he the tough guy who fought bad villains or was he a geek to afraid to even let his true emotions show towards the girl he loved. When we face these kinds of conflict we have no choice but to close the gap of incongruence or to chose between our identities which of our "masks" truly belong to us and which we should put down for good.
Allah (SWT) knows us and all our incongruences and discontents, Insha Allah he will help us chose the best of character befitting to ourselves. And when we do may he bless us with strength and courage to show our selves to those befitting of trust, our true sahabahs.