Not role models or people
This Wednesday I am giving a lecture for the ‘Inspiring Women’ series at the University of Warwick.
It always makes me uncomfortable to talk about inspiring role models so in doing the slides, I decided I may as well try to change that mindset by giving my perspective of role models.
I don’t believe in it.
Instead, this is what I believe. Inspiring behaviours.
I am inspired by behaviours — from anyone — you could be a student, a homeless person or a king. Behaviours are actions exhibited by all sorts of people and are not extrapolated to the kind of persons they are. It’s just the behaviour at a moment in time, in a particular context and setting. Often, they are small actions. Resourceful behaviours, creative behaviours, playful behaviours. And many are inspiring.
Once I was with a group of friends who smoked and we were in a shopping centre. They started to take out their cigarettes (this was when smoking was still allowed in enclosed places). One of them didn’t and I noticed he just didn’t smoke till we were outside. He didn’t impose on others – they were all happily puffing away. He just didn’t smoke till he was outside. I liked that behaviour. I learnt from it.
Sometimes I see a behaviour and I think “I could do that?” “that is allowed?” “I want to try doing that” or “I will learn to do that”. I believe, as a person, we are an accumulation of behaviours over the course of our lives. Some good behaviours, some bad ones. So the idea of a role model to me is bunk. Every person is always a set of good and bad behaviours.
Inspiring behaviours come from people everywhere, who are able to act, or who dare to act the way I might not or could not. Inspiring behaviours are inspiring because they make me realise what is possible.
Some acts are fearless. Some acts are funny. Some acts are embarrassing. Some I look at it and I say — “wow, I can’t do that.”
Then I ask why not. Usually, unless we’re talking about some physically impossible act for my hopelessly unfit body (and believe me, there are many), the answer is: Because I am not free.
I am not free because I fear what others think of me. Or because it’s not appropriate, or it’s not in my nature. Or something. And the more roles I hold, the more constraining is my freedom to act.
It is the Cartesian idea of “I think, therefore I am” that makes us think we need to be self consistent. I don’t always agree with that. In my opinion, we are how we act, not just how we think. And how we act comes from our capacity to act in a certain way, and our freedom to do so. Behaviours are the empirical evidence of a person’s life. Whatever the motivation for the behaviour is.
When I first moved to the UK, that was how I learnt to adapt, learnt to fit in, and learnt to enjoy a life that was so different from where I came from. I learnt new behaviours from others and I practiced at it. I learnt to behave the way I think I can behave, and how I’d like to behave. And in doing so, I learnt to be a better person than I thought I could be.
It is my interest in behaviours that makes me interested in data. Data is a manifestation of behaviours.
Behaviours are also true. You can speculate all you want about what you might do, what you think you’d like to do but the actual behaviour itself is the only one that is true.
So our behaviour is the most authentic part of us. Even if it’s a behaviour we regret, it is still true.
I believe every behaviour is a manifestation of (1) our capacity to behave (2) our self belief and identity. And in both regard, they free us to behave as we want to behave, and yet oppress us because they make us believe we can’t behave in a certain way.
Tomorrow I will talk a bit about how my life have been a series of learnt behaviours and how I constantly try to expand my capacity to behave. Slides here.