Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bursting One's Bubble to Discover One's Identity by Raymond Chappan

It is not uncommon for a person to wander through life not knowing who they are. It drives people mad trying to find their identity. The most clichéd response one can say is, “I’m trying to find myself.” But what are we looking for? Identities seem to be all people have: All we stand for, all we’re known as, all we know about ourselves. Who is to define an identity or what it should be comprised of? Several people try and dictate how to think of ourselves or how to categorize our identity. Education and experience are tools to help a person develop their sense of selfhood, but the ultimate definition comes from within. Through several readings, the idea of one’s personal identity can be challenged, enlarged, conflicted, or resolved. However, as a young adult seeking to find himself, I have learned that in order to become who I am, I must embrace where I come from, love my heritage, and then work on being the best I can be.
We, as college students, are at the most impressionable stages of our lives. It is up to us to become ourselves. Just thinking of that concept alone frightens me. Every class we take, every word we say, or every action we perform help shape us to be individuals in a great, big society. Entering Kohlberg’s stage of moral skepticism at 4.5 is exactly what we need to break the social confines, think on our own, and develop personal opinions true to our own beliefs (Kohlberg). As we learn and develop, the path to figuring out our identity tends to get easier and more finite. Identity can mean lots of different things to a great many people because of how personal the topic can become. Each one of us must grow on our own and find what identifies them as an individual.
As a Modern Orthodox Jew from the Syrian community of Brooklyn, I have to find myself the hard way. Coming from a community with set boundaries and rules---such as who I can marry, where I may eat and pray, or who I am permitted to hang out with---really can hinder one’s growth. We call it the “Syrian bubble” because many community teenagers feel sheltered from the outside world, only being exposed to what our parents allow us to see. As per community custom, children usually have a choice between two local yeshivas to attend from upper nursery through high school, and then often pick a local college or simply work in the family business. This leaves little room for exploration in life, since we have generally the same friends since the age of five. With a constant curiosity of what “real” teenagers in public schools are doing and how it would be to have friends of a different race or religion, most of my friends and I feel like we are at a disadvantage in life, being excluded from almost everything the world has to offer. For this reason, I found the message in “The Allegory of the Cave” by Plato to sit so strongly with me. Throughout my upbringing I felt as if I was chained up, forced to only see projections on the wall. It is only when I am set free from my chains that I am allowed to go out and experience the world. Similarly to the allegory, not everyone is freed and not everyone is so comfortable with being freed. Only once we explore real life and “look at the sun” does the development of a sense of self begin (Plato). For me, my sense of freedom came from going to college. I left my “bubble” cave and went on to learn things on my own. It took me some time to adjust to the light, but now that I see clearly, I am learning a lot about the world and can finally begin to morph into my own. “The Allegory of the Cave” helped me reinforce the actions I’ve taken in my life to find my identity and to become the fully immersed person I aspire to become.
However, one cannot be the person he wants to become until he begin to own himself. Our perfections and flaws are what make us people, and each of us have qualities that make us unique. I think one of the hardest things for someone to do is to take pride in who he is, even if that’s what makes him different. To be honest, I was always a little embarrassed to tell people I meet that I am Jewish, speak perfect Hebrew, and observe all holidays and traditions. Gloria Anzaldua opened my eyes and showed me the value of loving myself. In “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” she writes of the hardships that she, as a Chicana woman, faces in her life. She goes on to say that many Chicana immigrants often drop their native language and learn English to avoid awkward situations (39). I can relate to this because as I was learning Hebrew throughout my entire childhood education, I kept on thinking to myself that I would never need this language, since it is primarily spoken in only one country and is pretty obsolete. As I got older, I secretly started dropping my family’s orthodox values by eating non-kosher foods, using electricity on Sabbath, and skipping a few prayers. When I thought on Anzaldua’s essay, I exposed another portion of my identity that I had tried keeping secret. She furthers her claims by saying, “There are more subtle ways that we internalize identification, especially in the forms of images and emotions. For me food and certain smells are tied to my identity, to my homeland" (42). Syrian and Middle Eastern foods, aromas, and words are a staple in my household. These things along with speaking Hebrew and keeping my Jewish faith are so ingrained in my upbringing that they practically make up who I am. Without Anazaldua’s words I probably would not have been as enlarged as I am now. Embracing the past and keeping true to where you come from are essential components to develop one’s self.
After a person is secure with himself, he can then focus on being a leader. There were several times that I was a leader, whether it be leading my entire grade to victory in a high school color war or directing 40 of my peers through the deserts of Israel; being somebody to look up to is one of my strong suits. I thought that I was a confident, strong leader since I’ve taken courses in leadership development and gone to international leadership training programs. Having read “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr, I realized that not only do I have a long way to go, but once I think I am the best I can be, I still have more to go. Throughout reading the letter I was in awe. What struck me most was how calm was his composure. As a rhetoric communications major, I took particular interest in his persuasion techniques. He uses friendly terms such as “dear” when referring to the clergymen even though they were his enemies (par. 1). Even more so, he breaks down the problem so that each part is clear and understandable. There is also much to learn from his personal life. I cannot imagine being bold enough to take a bullet for what I believe in. He paid the ultimate price for his cause and that speaks volumes about who he was and how much each of a leader he was.
Martin Luther King Jr found his calling in life, but some of us aren’t as lucky and are constantly try to fit in somewhere. We are strangers in our skin, not knowing who we are or where we belong until the time is right. I have studied throughout my Jewish education what it means to be a global citizen. The questions of a “Jewish American” or an “American Jew” have been topics of discussion my entire life. After much self-reflection, I chose not to be either one of them. I don’t believe in having a national identity because I feel that people should be free to be whatever they want. It goes without question that I love my countries, both America and Israel, and remain loyal to them both. I just don’t think that a person must associate himself with a country simply because he was born thete. I am a firm believer of Gestalt's saying: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Instead of me feeling like a small piece of something, I’d rather think of myself as a whole to my own. Reading “How I Finally Developed Some National Pride” by Sezin Koehler really conflicted with my ideas of identity. In the article, Koehler, an American of Sri Lankan descent, claims to never have had a sense of a national identity until gay marriage was legalized in America. What she felt she says, was “a strange feeling…pride” (par. 9). She was proud of her country and the progress Americans are making towards acceptance. I do not condemn national pride; sadly I have just never felt it. That doesn’t mean that I will never identify myself with a country; it means that no country has caused me to internally call it mine, to make me feel proud to belong to it.
Identifying ourselves is probably one of the hardest things to do. Each person must go on his own path to find his truth. It is interesting to see how every individual starts off the same as innocent blank slates and then slowly but surely becomes his or her own. Like a snowflake, no two people are the same. With the help of Anzaldua, Koehler, and Plato, I have embarked on the journey of finding myself. I learned that through education, and acceptance of my history I can work on myself to be a leader and a global citizen. Hopefully I find myself and am ultimately happy with who I become.
Works Cited
Anzaldua, Gloria. "How to Tame a Wild Tongue: Wanderwords in Theory." Wanderwords : Language   Migration in American Literature (2014): n. pag. Web.
King, Martin Luther, Jr. "Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]." Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

"Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development." Chart of Lawrence. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2015

Koehler, Sezin. "How I Finally Developed Some National Pride." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.

Plato. "The Allegory of the Cave From the Republic of Plato." About.com Education. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.
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