Based on my lack of activity here over the past year, it may seem like life in London has been uneventful, uninspiring or lacking. In fact, it has been everything but. The past year has been such a roller coaster that I often found myself thinking “there’s a blog post here” but had a hard time finding it. So I thought maybe I’d just start writing and clarity would find me. For someone who is rarely at a loss for words, it’s surprising that it has taken me this long to write a new post to launch this new medium (yay for a new website though am I right?!).
I often write about identity and pieces and holes of Swiss cheese that come together and bring us to where we are. That’s the essay that brought me to London almost two years ago. I’ve written about how varying identities, different qualities and characteristics make me who I am. Sometimes they’re a bit messy and seemingly contradictory. Sometimes they’re unbelievably simple and underwhelming. I imagine the end-result is this really unassuming post-modern abstract art that you’d come across at the Tate and think “Really? That is art? I could do that.”
But what I’ve failed to realize is that everyone looks at that piece of art a bit differently. Every individual perceives what’s right in front of them in a slightly different way. And while all the elements of this artwork need to come together in harmony for it to be appreciated or understood - in reality, it’s possible that only the artist sees that vision. Everyone else brings their own layer and lens.
You’re probably thinking, well duh, Sara. It’s a seemingly basic and obvious realization that everyone sees the world differently. If not, we’d be living in a black and white The Giver-esque dystopia. It’s what makes our world beautiful and diverse. But it can also bring pain and more than awkward moments.
And yet, I don't think it's the differing perspectives that end up causing problems. I think we run into trouble when our value on the prioritization of these elements, of these characteristics, of these identities, is different. When we fail to recognize intersectionality or complexity-driven harmony, because it’s something we’re unfamiliar with.
On a professional note, this idea of competing prioritization and local perspectives has become a focus point in my work and studies on community engagement over the last year. I think engagement and communication become pivotal in all sorts of environments - disease control and otherwise - because without them, we operate in silos that just don't make sense in such an interconnected and global world. (More on this in a post next week).
On a more personal note, I am often apologizing - to a lecturer before asking a question, to someone who bumps into me, to the table I bump into when rushing out the door. Maybe it's from growing up in the South or maybe it's the British stereotype that's rubbed off on me. But one thing I've never apologized for is being the loud, hyper, competitive brown girl.
Last week, I found myself apologizing for a part of me that I can't change. I find it interesting that as solid and confident as we can feel in our identity - how we view ourselves, how all of our pieces fit together in a positive way - at the end of the day, our relationships and connections with the world around us come from how everyone else views that piece of art.
This may sound like I'm resigning myself and the world to this very surface-level and shallow judgment. But that's not it at all. I think it just speaks to the importance of communicating and engaging if we are to dive into the deep-end. And I think that is so important if we are ever to truly know and understand the people around us. That depth is what makes the water richer and bluer.
That depth is what has made me the person that I am - as stressed out and chaotic and confused as that may be at times. It's what makes me excited by education - because my mom fought for it. Motivated to serve - because my values emphasized others over self. Passionate about social justice - because my privilege has shown me otherwise. Humbled by reality - because my skin, my gender, my nationality have formed me.
The crazy thing is, most of these pivotal and integral elements are things you can't see on the surface. They have been there and have guided me for 23 years and have made me who I am, whether the observer can see it or not. I am grateful for these experiences, these elements. And I am not at all sorry that they have influenced me for the better.
Thinking back on this last week and these reflections on identity, I am reminded of the Gestalt principle - that we perceive the 'whole' as more than the sum of its parts. I think this is true. I think we are more than all of our pieces because they interact and dance in a way that shapes each of us uniquely. But we must also remember the preconceptions, the unique connotations, and other influences on other individuals that may predispose them to interpret something in a different way. The other pieces and priorities that may not line up. In these cases, there's a disconnect. A 'miscommunication' we may chalk it up to. The beautiful thing about miscommunication is that it can often just be addressed with another conversation. With listening. With asking the other party where their priorities lie.
The problem is when we don't have those conversations. When we let one element eclipse the whole picture. When we close ourselves off from taking a step back and looking at something from a new angle. When we’re quick to judge “Really? That is art? I could do that.”
I'd like to try something new with the blog by including some 'recommended reading' at the end of each post. These will be pieces or books that inspired, influenced or informed my own writing.
This Post's Recommended Reading: Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Honestly, this book should be required reading. With an obviously attention-grabbing and potentially questionable title, this book does the opposite of what its title may imply and provides a really important history and perspective on what it means to experience, acknowledge and counter racism. If you've read it or consider reading it, let me know your thoughts!