I was recently reminded of that fabulous sketch from the classic TV series Only Fools and Horses, known affectionately as "Trigger's Broom". It seems to me that Trigger's insistence that his present broom is the same one as that shown in a 20-year old photograph - despite having had "17 new heads and 14 new handles" - provides a neat metaphor for the relational view of identity that I've spoken about in earlier posts.
Below is a short YouTube clip of the scene and a brief commentary (from 2 minutes 13 secs into the video).
In Sid’s Café, road sweeper Trigger shows Boycie, Del Boy and Rodney a photograph in which Councillor Murray is seen presenting him with a medal.
Rodney: “So what exactly is the award for?”
Trig: “For saving the Council money. I happened to mention to her one day that I’ve had the same broom for 20 years She was very impressed and said, ‘Have a medal’.” [Pause] “20 years; that’s a long time, Dave.”
Rodney: “Yeah. Well it’s two decades, innit?”
Trig: “I wouldn’t go that far. But it’s a long time.”
Later … he proudly shows them his broom.
Trig: “I’ve maintained it for 20 years. This old broom has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time.”
Sid: “How the hell can it be the same bloody broom then?”
Trig (indignantly): “Well here’s a picture of it. What more proof do you need?”
So is it the same boom in the photograph? Indeed, is it the same Trigger?
The notion of a core identity – a person’s “true self” that is fixed over time and ultimately discoverable – is widely held. In earlier posts (below), I have drawn attention to a relational view of identity, which is more congruent with lived experience – and, indeed, a reflection of it.
Paradoxically then, people are simultaneously the same and different. And so, it seems can be brooms!
From this perspective, Trigger is not wrong. It is the same broom – even if that sounds like a sweeping statement to make (!). It’s also a different broom. And he’s a different person from the Trigger we see in the photograph.
What more proof do you need?
Earlier posts on identity in orgnizations: