Rowan Williams: Our restless search for a new identity

From the Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year address

Wednesday 01 January 2003 01:00

A New-Year visit to the theatre is something special. At no other season is there so much choice – from period dramas to pantos, murder mysteries to musicals. There's something magical about the theatre. It is a different world in which anything can happen. In this world, with a dab or two of makeup here and a change of costume there, the players are able to transform themselves completely – to assume new identities, far removed from their everyday characters and personalities.

After the performance we accept the make-believe for what it was. But in much of the modern world, the issue is a bit more serious. We are in the world not of make-believe but of make-overs. Walk down almost any street in town, and you'll see banks, businesses, cafés and bars busy reinventing themselves. Time for a change to the decor and the name. Businesses, charities, seem obsessed with re-branding themselves. You do wonder a bit how much difference it really makes.

So what's going on? I suppose that behind all this is an anxiety. What do people really think of us, of me? Do they trust us, do they admire us, do they think we're better than our competitors? Perhaps if we changed the name, changed the image, we'd look better, and be trusted and relied on. Worth a try. But how do we know?

Perhaps people trust us even less when we change the brand name. It can be an infallible recipe for anxiety, for permanent, restless concern about how we look.

We're bound to think, as the year changes, about change in general – and this is just one kind of change. But it's one that tells us some uncomfortable truths about ourselves, about the way we live now.

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