Read a short piece on identity in a book of reflections and that made me think about how we define ourselves. ‘Who are you?’ Not quite the most polite question to ask a person but thinking about how we respond can be quite telling. Do we give a name, a nickname, our nationality or even our profession? Imagine a person asking that and then sitting back and waiting for our responses, not saying anything but allowing us to figure out how we are to define ourselves. How would we respond and more importantly, what would we respond with?
I remember teaching a class on this some time back and remember some discussions that went along the lines of this: we define ourselves in two ways – what we are and what we’re not. The first may seem pretty obvious but is more often than not derived from the latter. Groups tend to grow in opposition to others and quite often start of trying to distinguish themselves from the people they broke away from. While this might not be the case in all situations, it can be pretty common. Take the Peranakans (Straits-born Chinese from Southeast Asia) for example – their culture evolved as a unique blend of Chinese and local customs and traditions that was also born out of the need to distinguish themselves from the newly arrived Chinese immigrants.
Ethnicities and religions are common ways in which people define themselves – after all, how one looks and what one believes in are fairly basic things that most people are concerned with and can be a primal rallying point for many. I’ve learnt that looking different can not only lead to odd stares and sidelong glances along the street but can also bring about a slight sense of discomfort among people you meet. Difference can do that to people. While I do see and define myself by what I am and what I believe in, I don’t believe those are the defining buts of identity.
So in a roundabout manner, I come back to the idea of identity. Who am I and how would I define myself. While I’m not sure what kind of person I am and what kind of person I want to be (that’s work in progress but it’s a slow process I believe, I do know what I am now and that this iteration of what I am does lend itself to my temperament and inclinations.
I’m an educator or at least I see myself as one. Not quite a teacher, definitely not a guru but an educator. The idea of education intrigues me and continually draws me back. Reflections about knowledge and knowing excite me and make me read strange books and articles by even stranger authors. Readers of this blog would also realise that that an inordinate number of posts are on teaching and education. That too stems from my interest and concern with things that have to do with the idea and practice of education. Why? I’m not quite sure but the idea of the creation of knowledge in others does hold a fascination to me and one thing that I’ve learnt over the past years is that as much as I complain about it before and after, one place that I never cease to enjoy myself or feel fully alive in is the classroom.
I guess that’s what this is all about. Finding something that you’re happy to do no matter the situation and being blessed with the ability to do it. I’m glad I’m here and am even more glad to have been able to make this journey as an educator.