“Our own life is the instrument with which we experiment with the truth.” Thich Nhat Hanh
This segmented, compartmentalized world utilizes labeling to define, pigeonhole and categorize humans as if this is who we really are, limiting the infinite choices. Lacking a personal compass, anchor or foundation, humans both allow and reinforce this identification process to proliferate in order to have a sense of belonging. Used loosely in our culture, the powerful “I am” conveys innermost, conscious and unconscious, personal thoughts, feelings, beliefs and ideologies about ourselves. The more Federal and tax dollars are directed towards special interests groups, the more citizens define themselves by them. Funding is available for minorities (so nationality is best defined), for physical and emotional handicaps, for hardships of all types until, it would be hoped that one day, the list of special interests would dwindle and disappear. Instead, more appear.
I AM A HUMAN BEING
If finding the sacred is important then what does it mean to be HUMAN? Chimps are our closet genetic cousins. Anthropologists like Jane Goodall have determined that they have 1) the ability to be taught 2) emotions 3) make tools 4) share ideas (which are the signs of culture) 5) copy behavior 6) share goals and complicated skills 7) learn by imitation 8) co-operate and work together 9) know number (Kyoto University) 10) learn about 3000 words 11) have rivalry, impulsive 12) use language for small talk 13) mind read. What do we have apart from apes? Impulse control. Children who have the highest ability for impulse control usually have the highest SAT scores. Divergence from apes comes from our understanding of cause and effect, much like children expecting to be taught by pointing! Tolerance behavior creates more intelligence and teamwork. People have a shared commitment to shared goals but NOT APES! Humans have the capacity to cheer each other on through encouragement (teaching). It appears that more the term human’ is defined and redefined, the more those aspects are found elsewhere reinforcing the theory that humanity is closely connected to every other living thing.
I AM MY NAME
A relatively short time ago in recorded his-story, given names and surnames were non-existent. Native American children were unnamed until some pronounced event or characteristic emerged- Rolling Thunder, Talking Stick, Deer Hunter. In European his-story, taking the surname of the father, instead of the mother, emerged as patriarchal dominion arose over designating property. Historically, the reasons for naming a child have dramatically changed over time. Yet, today, identification with the given name (first name which is reversed in some cultures) and the family name has high merit- especially when part of a dynasty like Kennedy or Rockerfeller- along male lines. Name identification has become another means for aligning with an ideology or philosophy as well as an aspect, behavior or characteristic rather than its origins, a communication tool.
I AM SICK
Does identifying and proclaiming imbalance reaffirm it to our souls? If every time I say “I am sick” am I reinforcing illness and victimhood? Would it be more beneficial to proclaim “I am getting better and better everyday”? According to NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), each time the negative affirmation is uttered, it rekindles and reaffirms to the mind (and the world) the out-of-balance state. Western medicine names an illness for clarity and repetition of treatment. But is ‘naming’ a dis-ease really essential for maintaining, physiological well-being and equilibrium or a is it hindrance? The most egregious form of health labeling is children’s normal behavior- for the sake of receiving Federal school subsidies, control in the classroom and disallowing certain natural behaviors (like curiosity) or just downright excuses for lack of parenting skills. What would the world be like if there were a dictionary that defined humans by every positive behavior and characteristic like gifted, talented, artistic, service oriented? Most probably, drug consumption would cease to exist. Isn’t it time to own our most valued traits instead of focusing on those that are lacking?
I AM MY FOOD
We define ourselves by our eating habits:
Omnivore (eats multiple animal sources); pollotarian (eats fowl, fish no pork/beef); pescetarian (eats fish, no fowl, beef, pork).; vegetarian (people who eat diary products no fowl, fish, beef, pork); vegan (people who eat no meat, eggs, fish or dairy products); raw foodist (eat uncooked foods); macrobiotic (rice, bean and oriental diet vegetarian with high salts in diet, yin/yang balance). Why do we do this?
I AM MY SEXUALITY
Remember the time when ‘gay’ meant a happy person? In the attempt for full disclosure, the privacy of the bedroom and our relationships have become public knowledge, thus emphasizing the importance of sexuality in this culture- Straight, Heterosexual, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transvestite all connote some form of sexual preference to the multitudes. Does anyone really need to know this? When did sexuality become a matter for public scrutiny?
I AM MY NATIONALITY
Supposedly, living in this country makes one an American. However, as I learned in my travels living abroad during a lecture as president of a college in Sweden, living in the United States of America does not give one the right to be called American- as the students from Canada and South America so aptly corrected me. This makes me a US Citizen as well as living on the continent of America. By contrast, as a second generation citizen, family members still refer to themselves proudly as Italian, Polish, Russian descent. For relatively new members of this society, the need to identify with the ‘home’ country is still important. For those that arrived on the Mayflower, much less. The census Bureau seems to agree defining US citizens by the former homeland.
I AM MY LIFESTYLE
Lifestyle was once confined to describe the way a person lives, a set of behaviors and the senses of self and belonging which these behaviors represent.. The behaviors and practices within lifestyles are a mixture of habits, conventional (or unconventional) ways of doing things, and reasoned actions. A lifestyle typically also reflects an individual’s attitudes, values or worldview. Economic, social and technical systems can constrain the lifestyle choices available to the individual.Western society defines the cornerstone of lifestyle construction through consumptive behavior, which offers the possibility to create and further individualize ‘self’ with different products or services that signal different ways of life. Defining ourselves is now directly linked by the very ‘things’ we posses, wear, consume from designer clothes to cars. ‘Things’ lose functionality status and are elevated to identity status.
I AM MY COMMUNITY
In modern times with the family infrastructure in disarray and confusion, identification with communities supports a sense of belonging that in past generation was fulfilled by immediate family. Community participants share common interests and values. There are sports communities, religious communities, social communities, intellectual communities, green communities and health communities. The list is endless. Without the foundations that former families and neighborhoods previously offered, communities fulfill those needs.
I AM MY CULTURE
The “culture” one belongs to is a more complicated concept because it can involve spoken and written language, rituals and morals. The culture is defined by the arts and humanities, patterns of knowledge, belief or behavior along with the the capability to use some kind of symbols to communicate (whether it is hieroglyphics or letters), and a set of shared attitudes, goals and practices for institutions, organizations or groups. An interesting phenomena which has in recent his-story evolved is the notion that somehow an institution, corporation or organization acts separately from its human members. When an institution misbehaves or fails, the individuals within that structure are blameless. The ‘culture’ is responsible, as if behavior is an entity of its own disconnected from the humans who performed the behavior. Perhaps, ‘too big to fail’ is just too big.
I AM ME
U R ME
AND I AM U!
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”