Michelle Mehelas | Monday, September 24, 2018
Last semester, I took a communications class at Saint Mary’s with the theme of nonviolent communication. It taught ways of building bridges to others by not using hateful speech. One of the TED talks we listened to focused on the theme of personal identity. There were four speakers who each shared how they felt that their identity was not related to one particular aspect of their lives.
The first was Tan Le, a Vietnamese woman. She and her family were refugees who escaped from the Vietnam War. Tan talked about having only pairs of clothes to last the entire school year. She lived in two parallel worlds: one of strict Asian academic expectations and one of living in an area of drug abuse and gangs in Australia. Her mother started a successful company to help the family get out of poverty, and Tan later became a successful entrepreneur. Despite her difficult upbringing, Tan believes her identity is as much related to her job running a startup tech company as her native land and culture.
Andrew Solomon is a gay and middle-aged father. His deepest sense of identity relates to having a disabled child and his identification with that condition and with other parents who have children with the same one. Solomon said that “the greatest love is that for children.” I believe that he is correct in that our identity is found in who and what we love. For Andrew Solomon, home is being with people (in his case, his children) that he deeply cares for. They make him happy.
The third speaker was Elif Shafak of Turkish ancestry. She is a London-based writer who was born in France and has lived much of her life in Turkey and in America. Elif said supporting terrorist groups, smoking cigarettes and women wearing veils are Turkish stereotypes. Elif attempts to break down cultural barriers by both telling and writing stories. For her, cultural belonging is a fluid concept that has multiple identities. Important to avoid is asking “Are you one of them or are you one of us?” It’s provocative and can lead to anger because that type of question implies rivalries and alliances, she said. It is better to find common ground by shared experiences such as being a college student or the love of sports, art, music or movies.
Pico Iyer of Indian heritage was born and raised in England and has traveled the world. Pico believes his identity is “what’s inside of [him], not a physical property or place.” He said he realized this after losing his California home to a wildfire. Pico believes home is “not the place where you sleep, but it is where you stand.” And even though he lost his home, he said he will always have beautiful memories and feelings of that house.
As a college student, my three main sources of personal identity are family, community and faith. I have grown up in a close-knit family where my immediate family and relatives celebrate birthdays, holidays and other special events together. Saint Mary’s and the South Bend Holy Cross community have made me part of something bigger than myself. What should bind all three campuses together are kindness and respect, as both are practical ways of demonstrating love. My Christian faith reminds me to build bridges with everyone. In today’s disruptive world, by speech and action, let our identity be a reflection of God and His love for us.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.