Not Quite Myself
An Attempt to Respond to Dan Purcell’s Question on Twitter
Dan’s a cool guy, by the way. Y’all should check out his page :)
In a society that has begun to encourage everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) to be themselves, why still CAN’T we do just that?
Aside from a lack of respect or acceptance, from a slightly more scientific standpoint, I speculate that we can’t be ourselves because being ourselves can and often does prevent us from connecting with others. The tribal nature of humans provokes people to do things that will allow them to be accepted by the rest of the group they live with and conform to standards. Even though we live in a world now where people do try to empathize with others and understand them more, it often doesn’t work because in the end, we are all stuck in our own minds and can never experience things in the same way as others do. It is the beautiful human crisis.
I’m not sure this generalization adequately explains it, but perhaps a personal account will illustrate what I’m trying to say more effectively…
I love being able to be myself, but that’s only when I feel like I can be not just accepted but also understood. And I’ve never felt understood due to the many cultural differences both within my family and with the rest of the outside world.
I am what most would probably call the stereotypical quiet Asian girl. I am almost always acutely aware of being an Asian, especially in the presence of a predominantly white population, but I have never been ashamed of being so. I have much pride in being Chinese — I love my culture, I love the arts, I love the rich history, I love the good food (takeout, by the way, is NOT legit Chinese food, thank you very much), I love the hilarious Chinese jokes (many of which are based on wordplay) — but the many of my friends are not Chinese and so they don’t get my Asian habits. Even if they are Chinese they may be from a different part of China or have been exposed to a different amount of Chinese culture than I have, and so even they may not get it. And when they don’t get it there’s this disconnect in the relationship that I can’t help but to try to bridge by falling back on the things everyone is familiar with, but I can’t always do that because I am not well acquainted with the majority of American culture.
I’m too American to fully connect with my parents, and too un-American to fully connect with every other person I meet on the street. In any case, I will always feel some like a bit if an outcast (ahahaha middle school though *cringes*). There will always be people who will not be able to share my joy. I will always feel some level of isolation when I am myself, and that’s just a horrible feeling to walk around with, so I guess sometimes it’s easier to just avoid it all by not showing certain parts of me. I can avoid the strange looks and sarcastic comments and the casual brush offs when I try to explain myself (back to that thing about why I don’t talk…).
Considering all of that, I think I understand the pressure for immigrants to assimilate more now. Immigrants want to be accepted, and everyone else either doesn’t want to or doesn’t have the time to learn about the whole other culture…
So I guess my proposal in order to attempt to fix this is that society should not only encourage people to be themselves, but also encourage people to learn and understand their choices. If there are stories behind it all, listen to them. If there is no explanation and they just are, at least show them your respect.
Joy and a sense of connection come only when you truly understand the mechanisms behind it all. I know that to be a fact because it’s what always happens when I’m learning new scientific and mathematical concepts, and I would imagine that to be true for human interactions, too.
Update 6/28/2016: Jake Roper of Vsauce 3 posted a video that I think is an intriguing extension of the whole “showing parts of yourself” bit. Check it out: