A few months ago, I had visited my family at Bangalore, India. Returning to my homeland was a nostalgic experience. During this period, my family, and I took a trip to a biological park.
While I enjoyed my time at the park, the excursion accompanied a fair share of contemplation on my part particularly with regards to the treatment of the world’s wildlife, and environment.
As much as I enjoyed observing the various species of animals that the park hosted, I felt a certain measure of guilt, remorse, and even anger at the state of said animals within their caged amenities.
I felt distraught that the freedom of said beasts, so majestic, was dampened within these structures, structures that were all too human; built around our ego, and will for dominance that have left us blind to the truth that we all depend on the measured balance of the ecosystem for survival.
While we pride upon our intellect to differentiate, and set us apart from the beasts, it grieved me to think, that in this modern day, and age humankind continues to digress to a base notion of primacy in its interaction with other species on this planet, and the environment.
Ruminating on these thoughts, I passed by a message upon our departure from the park. Carved along the head of a rock, the message read, (as I recall, it was a quote by the founder of the institution)
The survival of man is dependent on the survival of animal, and plant life.
Providing poetic irony to my reflections, the message inspired me to write the poem below, a brief meditation on the Cages that imprison human nature.
Those shadows stare,
The blackened soot of their vacant eyes,
Clamoring against the leering smiles,
Forcing open the void from whence,
Comes that onerous resonance,
Tarnished ivories gaping amid the sputum,
Coagulating in the filth of their stature,
Wrinkled by the posture of their pride,
Dictating their steps,
Upon the earth they tread,
Mutely claiming what they desire,
Declaring their supremacy,
In these rusted chains,
So to rest,
Behind these bars,
Where this existence caged,
In limbo dwells,
Awaiting the spell,
That falls to the ground,
Submitting to the prejudice of vanity,
In ignorance of an action,
Human, all too human…
It is a question that everyone asks at some point in their lives, and characterizes an individual’s struggle to define their identity, relative to themselves, and the world. Understanding this allows one to examine, as well as recognize, their own potential, and qualities as an individual. It is also highly influential in one’s decision on who they choose to be, particularly in relation to their social circumstances.
I’d spent the past week wrestling with this concept, that incidentally suffers heavily from the bias of vague, and open-ended statements. It is also an onerous task to maintain a degree of impartiality in discussing the various facets of a concept that is implicitly co-dependent on the individual, and their environment. Thus, for the sake of brevity, and a measure of focus, I will abstain from a generalized mode of approach, and inject a dose of my personal experience, as a third culture kid (TCK), to guide my review of this subject.
What is a TCK?
A third culture kid is a term used to describe children who were raised in a culture, or an environment outside of their parents’ culture for a significant part of their years of development.
Self-identity is a measure of an individual’s growth, and is paralleled by their personal intelligence. Self-knowledge is the understanding of oneself, and one’s motives, or character. Personal intelligence is the exhibition of this self-knowledge, allowing one to correctly evaluate oneself, and others. Possessing personal intelligence also allows individuals to acknowledge their own limitations.
Altogether, it could be said that this triad of elements, and their dynamics in an individual define his/her personality. An analogy can be made to the form of ideas, and their subsequent expression via actions. The question of identity is a sponsoring thought, precursor to the ideas that form the foundation of our self-knowledge, to ultimately result in the growth of our personal intelligence exercised in our ability to adapt to our environment, and our decisions.
In constructing one’s identity, an individual confronts the objective of maintaining a balance between these three elements, while remaining open to an assortment of external influences that pervade one’s environment. This balance exemplifies the ideal “perfection” that every individual may seek as dictated by the boundaries of their life.
An Identity Crisis
An identity crisis is not so much a crisis as it is a natural consequence of life. One may experience such an issue at any point in their life, and at times, repeatedly.
In my case, the root of the crisis was in the difference of my views, along with the influx of conflicting “agents” that set about the expansion of my world. It was a process that eventually led me to acknowledge my status as a TCK.
These so-called “agents” were the structures about which my life revolved, and a casual listing of a few would include: culture, religion, family, education, and personal experience. My identity crisis originated from a combination of these factors, and had a significant influence in my mental, and physical maturity.
Every individual we meet in life maintains a unique view of the world, none of them being perfect. At times, we aren’t conscious of this world view, and there is an associated vagueness on the rules that we abide by, or prefer to choose, in leading our lives. Problems in self-identity arise as reason pierces this vagueness that clouds our psyche.
My exposure to a clash of cultures, and my daily interactions during my life at Egypt, Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Canada, the differences in religious rituals, and conversations, the changes in family dynamics as well as the choices made in my personal education, and the acceptance of selective experiences allowed for clarity, and a brand new integrated perspective on the rules, and standards that dictated my life.
My struggle primarily concerned communicating my differing views, and perspectives within the conservative habitat of my family. To call for blame was redundant, and the solution followed the simple necessity of an open conversation, but the path to it was fraught with afflictions of self-doubt, and a gradual disintegration of the boundaries that once delegated my life. I often liken it to seeing the two faces of a coin, describing the dual identity I maintained, while in contention with an objective to delineate the appropriate behavioral balance in between.
What is the bigger picture?
The environment contributed vastly to my progress. My childhood was predominantly in India, in a society that constituted a collective form of individuality, where there is a preference for group mentality, particularly surrounding family relationships. As a ten year old, I was not able to critically assess my status in this culture.
The rest of my life was spent traveling from country to country, completing my secondary education in Egypt, followed by my higher-secondary studies in Sudan. While my family would continue in their collective journey to Sierra Leone, I decided to pursue studies at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Canada, and where I am now to this day.
In between these transitions, I slowly confronted the persisting doubts, and questions I had of the various cultures, and communities where I had lived. This led to the conflict between the conservative dynamics of my family, and the open attitude I embraced in my life.
I found the inability to openly discuss individual differences within my culture as a major obstacle in communication. Social interactions would rather become a form of control (abusive or non-abusive), followed by an equally weighted concern for internal, and external judgment. Influence seemed a selective process relegated upon the younger population via the codes of conduct (or ritual) held in high esteem by the older fraternity.
On the other hand, the allure of an open approach towards life, fostered an independent attitude, and relationships. There was an inherent favoritism towards the individual, and his/her actions could reflect along the lines of, “You do what is right for you-haters gonna hate.”
Confronted by these differences, I decided to choose the best of both worlds. It is a choice that I still debate, and contend with. My identity crisis entertains a search for balance between the differing values, and ways of life in the two communities. Neither was perfect, and both had their share of deficiencies, and advantages.
How do we make the right decisions?
It is the final destination. An identity crisis ultimately comes to debating the right course of action. In my opinion, there is no one absolute answer.
The choice of identity is a highly selective, and fast-evolving process. At the end of the day, it really is up to the individual to decide on what they wish to believe in, and the path they choose to pursue.
It would be highly favorable if this decision is made with an open mind that not only acknowledges the compromises that may be made, but also the necessity to remove oneself from an environment that may not be suitable in their lives.
This willingness to separate oneself from their immediate world, can be accompanied by a healthy endeavor to integrate the multitude of perspectives, and views that concern their life.
To what end?
My comments on the prior section may provide an air of selfishness about the individual in choosing their well-being over that of others. In my own life, my choice to follow a unique path was falsely viewed as an act of selfishness. This is very common, as we are after all discussing an issue that pits an individual against his/her immediate environment, and peers. Thus, it is natural to have a difference of views, or a parting of ways among the subjects involved.
Identity is an evolving concept. It is a lifelong transition, and depending on the individual, it may or may not find a resolution. I’m still very much in the process of constructing my identity, and have found my resolve by focusing on my dreams, and aspirations. Compromises have to be made, and is inherent in our struggles to find a place for ourselves in this world.
But, in the end, what matters the most is that we do so being true to ourselves, and who we wish to be. While doubts, and misgivings may persist, it is up to us to keep pushing forward, even when a resolution may not be evident, in this grand adventure that is life, for isn’t that what it means to be human?
To my readers
This post describes my personal opinions on this complex subject. I invite critical comments, and discussions.