The events of the past couple of weeks have been eye opening to say the least. Perhaps what I find most fascinating and simultaneously frustrating is that I feel I am gaining so much more from my Duke Engage experience than I am giving back to my community partner. From being exposed to so many different forms of expression and sexuality to being thrust into foreign situations and places, I have never felt so emotionally drained. Simultaneously, I have never felt so alive and aware of my surroundings.
The main reason I am bringing this up is because the past two weeks have taught me so much about myself and what I realized is that it’s not easy. It’s not easy learning about yourself. For one thing you are biased to think you are doing better than you really are. Accepting that I am flawed or doing something wrong requires a great deal of humility. The past two weeks have forced me to sit down and examine my beliefs, thoughts, and personal biases. I had to recognize my own shortcomings and accept them so that I would be able to look at where those shortcomings were stemming from and how I could change.
After walking around the city for two weeks and processing all the visual pollution around me, I noticed that there was a recurring theme connected to identity that was constantly being played out around me. Our society loves to box people in. We love categories. You’re tall, short, black, white, smart, dumb, pretty, ugly, etc. It’s just labels after labels after labels that seem to be telling us exactly who we are. Then why is it that my generation seems to be the most confused about this fundamental human question: Who Am I?
Here’s the problem. We think that we can answer this question with a couple of adjectives and some letters from the Myers-Briggs Test. News flash: we are a complex and diverse species that could never and should never be described with only a couple of adjectives or letters from a test. This habit of ours to use simple descriptors for people dampens our diversity and the innate complexity within each of us. It limits us to thinking that we are all similar and that there is an in-group (the people that share those same descriptors) and an out-group (the people that do not use the same descriptors). Honestly, I think all of us are the out-group. No one is truly like anyone else and we wouldn’t want it that way. Life is challenging and people challenge us because they are different. We wouldn’t be where we are today if our society thrived on sameness. Our ability to adapt and grow is part of what makes us such beautiful creatures and allows us to go where no other species has gone. Why would we want to dampen that ability?
We say we value differences and revel in the unique passions of our peers but then explain to me why society believes all women should look a certain way to be “beach body ready” i.e. skinny, white, blond, and tall? Why are we not beautiful as we are? The ad below has been prevalent all over the NYC subway stations and is targeting a surface level concept about beauty perceptions but, I see it as evidence of a much deeper seated issue that is plaguing our society and preventing us from advancing. It’s that concept of wanting sameness. Of valuing one look or one mentality or one personality trait over the others instead of empowering the differences in each of us.