“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no ones definition of your life, but define yourself”
– Harvey Fierstein
I actually had a couple topics I wanted to write about before I posted this, but with everything going on in the news right now, it’s become a topic that I can’t sit still and watch happen. I needed to get some things off my chest.
Identity. It’s a mysterious word. We know what it means, but when we have to define it, it becomes difficult, and when we look at ourselves and how we, as each individuals, identify ourselves, we realise that each individual is so unique and different to the next individual. This is not new, and more recently, there have been specific classes in school that look into religion and identity for example. But here, I want to look at human and identity.
I touched upon it in one of the early posts when I gave my own understanding of what it means to be human and what it means to be a person, and how the latter had a lot to do with the concept of identity. I didn’t go into much detail on identity then, but I do want to delve deeper into it now. Identity is something that even scholars cannot all agree completely on, where some argue that it’s inherent, and comes from within, while others argue that it is a social construct. It is in many ways how we, as one human, distinguishes ourself from the next, and allows us to be part of a group, or part of a category where one can relate to. Identity is sharing a thought, belief, race, sexuality, experience, so really it has a lot to do with a shared something. Yet, while identity means sharing and inclusion, it can also lead to division and exclusion.
Social stigma, and social exclusion is not new, and while some of us may have been fortunate enough to have never experienced feeling left out or excluded, many of us have been victim to this. Whether you’re treated differently because of your race, gender, sexuality or religion, one way or another, we, the brilliantly intellectual human beings, have found ways to create conflict in times of peace and division in times of unity. And this is exactly what got me questioning, whether being human means taking a step back and disassociating oneself from one’s identity.
I was first exposed to this new thought, when I was reading HH the Dalai Lama’s book on “Happiness” followed by his other book written alongside Archbishop Desmond Tutu called “The Book of Joy”. Both are advocates of peace, love and compassion and truly respected religious leaders, be it completely different religions. It was there, that it was mentioned how it is important when talking to people, to talk to the human. The walking, talking, thinking organism created by bones and muscle. The very animal that all share the capacity to love, laugh and cry. Because it is at this level that we are all equal.
Please, just take a moment to think about this.
If we strip ourselves from our most recent experiences, if we strip ourselves from what we categorise ourselves to be, we strip ourselves down to the very basic nature that is, being human (which, is precisely what this blog is about). Your Muslim friend might share different religious views to your Christian friend. Your straight friend might have different opinions than your gay friend. Your multicultural, multilingual friend might have different ways of doing things than your straight up local friend. We are all different, in so many ways, and each of what makes us different, the experiences, have led to these differences. But strip that away, and your friend is still your friend, your friend is very much human just like you. Strip that away and you realise that when you are insulting, or excluding another person, you are ultimately insulting and excluding yourself. Strip the identity away, and soon you realise that a religion, race, sexuality, gender never mattered. It’s times when you see your own stereotypes being wrong like a skinhead helping an old woman cross the road (as a most generic and hopefully least controversial example) that it becomes so apparent how irrelevant identity can be.
It’s difficult. There’s no doubt about it. It’s hard to disassociate yourself from identities that have defined you for your whole life, or how your surroundings have defined you. It’s also hard to imagine, to lose your identity. It’s seen as a negative thing. But keeping in mind I’m not talking literally, and rather metaphorically and in an abstract way, it is possible to rid yourself of identity. It simply means putting your differences aside, and seeing everyone as human. Because low and behold, as animals, we protect our species, and when we realise that we are all human, we get the urge to protect us, each other.
Please also bear in mind, that I’m not condemning identity. Identity is necessary because that is what creates societies. Yet when identity can be misunderstood and abused. When certain perceptions of an identity is used to label a whole category of people, or used as a reason to deny people’s rights, that is when I believe that identity can be dangerous, and it becomes even more important to get in touch with the inner human. Identity is important, yes, but it does is not the complete definition of us. Being human is.
Have a think over a nice cup of tea or coffee, and the next time you talk to someone, talk to them as a human, and see how far that might take you.
Have a great rest of the week! x.
PS. I HIGHLY recommend the books “The Book of Happiness” and “The Book of Joy” that have been mentioned above. The message is universal, and it doesn’t matter who you are, it’s very important. Take a look when you have the time.