In What Ways Might Imagination Shape Personal Identity?


Imagination is the creative ability of a person to form imaginary images, ideas as well as mental states in the mindset without necessarily involving the direct contributions of the senses that include touch, sight, smell, and hearing. On the other hand, personal identity refers to the self-consciousness that a person develops about self over their lifetime. Personal identity has two unique aspects of life, controllable and uncontrollable. The uncontrollable aspects of personal identity include skin color, race, and ethnicity while the controllable factors include that various choices that a person makes in life, for example, how one spends time and what they believe in that often shape their attitudes and perceptions in life. People often show part of their personal identity through the kind of clothes they wear and the manner in which they interact with other people. Imagination can shape personal identity in different ways that include changing the perception of reality, impacting on expectations and hopes as well as on attitude that finally develops personal identity through a change of actions and behavior.

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Imagination shapes personal identity by making the ideal or virtual world become a reality. According to Possible Worlds: Why Do Children Pretend by Alison Gopnik, the power of imagination is not only prominent in grown-ups but also in young people. As the article reinstates, “human beings don’t live in the real world. The real world is what happened in the past, is going on now, and will happen in the future” (Gopnik 163). The alternative world that people create through imagination offers a platform from viewing the world from the other alternative perspective. Dreams and plans as well as fictions and hypotheses are the important products of imagination and hope that often shape personal identity. Visions are different from the real world where we focus on what took place in the past and what is happening now. Gaining insights into the invisible world of imaginations where people tended to understand what ought to have occurred in the past but did not take place and what should be happening now and are not yet is critical in shaping our perceptions about the possibility of experiencing the ideal world regardless of how remote it may seem. Imagination enables a person to go beyond the reality and think of the existence of non-existent things and perceive how the world would be like under such conditions. It is from this perspective that even children have their imaginations about the world, an image that offers the alternative world. Changing the world from the crazy imaginary powers of childhood is practical in the sense that they can separate reality from fiction and create plans from such imaginations in a manner that allow them to change the world. Counterfactual thinking that is common in the imaginary world often influences judgments, decision-making, and emotions that are crucial aspects human personality – “…counterfactual thinking is utterly pervasive in our everyday life and deeply affects our judgments, our decisions, and our emotions” (Gopnik 165). Imagination powers have the potential to perceive the real world of racial bigotry and discrimination that in many ways help change perceptions and change the way a person from one race interacts and see others from other races. When a person actualizes the imaginary world and implements its principles, things suddenly change and so does his or her personal identity. Imagination is a powerful tool, especially when overcoming racial and ethnic perceptions and stereotypes – “I love to be black, and I love that I had a white father” (Smith 247). From the quote, it may be argued that the person in question has developed a positive image of the fact that she is a product of a white father and a black mother, and she is comfortable with the experience she has had with the two distinct cultures. However, one would argue that the environment has considerably contributed to the intimate view of the two cultures because she is a product of it. Others would imagine the same situation as part of the imaginary world and have the same belief. Apparently, kind of imagination depends on the nature of the environment that not only shapes our thinking but also how we see things.

Imagination has a significant influence on personal expectations and hopes. What we expect in life and what we hope for normally has an impact on personal identity. “Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it” (Smith 260). In life, a very person has some expectations that come from a variety of sources that include family, friends, and government. Imaginations result into what we called the expectation gap between what a person expects either from another person or a government and what is delivered. When a person mentions an idea or promises something, the receiving person creates some form of an imaginary world where he or she views what the actual product of such an idea or a product would look like and prepare to see it become a reality. Similarly, patriotism has been expressed by some scholars as a form of imagination because it makes one to “imagine” and “believe” that their country of birth is the best in the world. Such arguments are not real but exist in the alternative worlds of imaginations and are based on certain parameters most of which do not exist in real terms. On the other hand, hope is having a strong belief; though something has not happened, it will one day happen, and you continue to pursue it. Hope is a product of imagination since people often hope for or believes in certain things that they have not seen. Consider a citizen who despite weak economic growth and political stability believes that their country is the best in the world, not because of anything else but just because they believe that that is their country of birth. It is from the alternative world that a person ranks their country on factors that are not given much attention in reality world (Gopnik 170). It is under such circumstances that people are reminded to face reality and stop daydreaming; however, the answer is the power that imagination has on individuals. Persons who are suffering in the real world have hopes that, at some day, things will change, and they seek refuge from the alternative world, which is a product of imagination.

Imagination shapes attitude, an essential component of personal identity. However, while imagination helps us look at the world in different ways, the position we form around various objects and issues define our judgments. For instance, living in a foreign country and the poor attitude that comes with the different dialects more often make non-native students or visitors adopt international and drop local dialects – “…now it is my only voice, whether I want it or not. I regret it; I should have kept both voices alive in my mouth” (Smith 248). People tend to change their voices and dialects to avoid the frustrations and “awkwardness” that language class do create in their communications. Our attitudes towards other cultures do extend to the individuals hailing from such cultures. However, it is only in the alternative world that we can see each other as brothers and sisters and view our physical and cultural differences as sources of our strengths. People sometimes learn what is acceptable and what is not through trial and error – “simple trial and error, trying different actions until one succeeds, is often a very effective way of getting along in the world” (Gopnik 167). The environment exerts pressure on behaviors, hence the modification of actions and behavior. Such a change explains the difference in sound and dialect of international students who find themselves engulfed in the new real world that was once a dream. There are certain things that some people think that are imaginary, only to realize that somewhere around the world they exist. Adopting a new way of doing things depends on the attitude that comes with imagination (Gopnik 169). The positive attitude means that a person can easily strive to actualize the alternative world’s views by practically implementing them. An attitude enables people to become persistent in what they think should happen and in the driver behind world’s inventions. It calls for creativity to create an ideal world where things happen according to the plans and dreams of the imaginary world.


Imagination shapes personal identity in various ways. Imaginations often influence our attitude towards objects and events, hopes and expectations as well as helping us make our dreams and plan a reality. People have hopes and expectations from their experiences of past and current events and, through imaginations, expect certain things to happen in the future. What a man is thinking is the real definition of who he is; hence, we all are what we consider to be appropriate. Our attitudes towards events are a product of imagination that makes all that others may view as impossible. Imagination is what has led to the plans, dreams, and hypotheses that we do create while speculating the future. Imaginations are the source of firm beliefs that things that exist in the alternative world can exist in reality world. It is a motivation that inspires hope amongst the hopeless and brings strength to the powerless. An imagination positively shapes our attitudes towards various aspects of life, thereby guaranteeing the dreamers a stronger personality. It changes our beliefs, styles of interaction and perceptions about other people, cultures, and events. Imagination instills persistence in life that enables people to keep on trying until they attain the desired results. However, it is apparent that the environment plays a significant role in shaping imaginations that subsist in various forms. Lastly, the power of imagination is not only evident in adults but also in children and is the source of ideas and information upon which they strive to change the word.


Works Cited

Gopnik, Alison. “Possible Worlds: Why Do Children Pretend?” The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us about Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life, Picador USA, 2011, pp. 19-46.

Zadie Smith. Speaking in Tongues. The New York Review of Books, 2011.