We have all experienced changes in our identity over time as we become parents, uncles, aunties, grandparents or even great grand parents. Change becomes a constant factor as our professional standing develops and sometimes as we migrate to other countries. Change/mixture/diversity, as such, has always been part of our lives, probably taken for granted. It can sometimes bring confusion. For example, in cases where we are born in a culture different from that of our parents. Growing up in that foreign culture for most of your life, fully embracing it and speaking fluently the language and then being told by your parents that you are from a different culture….so confusing….. It is true that we live in our own representation of reality.
Forty years ago, one’s cultural identity was like that of a baobab, having its roots deeply and solely in one geographical space. Today, for many people, their personal identity is no longer set in stone. Sharing a common ethnic heritage with little or no shared cultural references or experiences such as Japanese and people of Japanese ancestry is a very flimsy foundation for long term, successful and fulfilling relationships. People in similar life situations would have much more in common than any differences in their gender, racial and linguistic backgrounds might initially suggest.
Cultural identities are now a dynamic part of people’s personal identities. They are in constant flux as people strategically select and combine features by which to differentiate themselves. Their continuous interactions with others and how they perceive these experiences would regularly change the boundaries of their cultural identities.
In the age of Facebook, Snapchat, WeChat, Instagram, people are constantly being exposed to multiple cultures. Diversity can no longer be overlooked! It is people’s ability to engage constructively with each other that will allow their own cultural identities to evolve and become a personal and professional asset. In some cases, people feel frustrated with ambiguity as they are unable to navigate in between two or more cultural worlds with whom they resonate strongly with. Trying to accommodate the requirements of each of those cultures would not allow someone to be your true authentic self.
Cultures are now inevitably dynamic. As a result, some people tend to view globalization as an unwanted intrusion. They are unable to protect their cultural heritage and what used to be their comfort zone feels like uncharted territory. Cultural shock sometimes leads to alienation as one feels “visible and out of place”. One’s inability to adapt is sometimes wrongly interpreted as a refusal to embrace change. It is useful to bear in mind that people tend to classify things in categories such as family, mother, student, British, and so on. Anything or anyone that can’t be categorised automatically brings confusion, stress, fears – all the negative feelings that can lead to disagreements, conflicts and sometimes, social exclusion.
As a matter of fact, every intercultural experience needs to be contextualized as it represents a snapshot which does not necessarily represent the whole picture. Interpreting this incident as a general rule of thumb would not allow anyone to fully benefit from any new experiences and therefore, to new knowledge. Personal growth is inhibited whenever “you need to run from a mountain lion”. You cannot protect yourself if you need to expend energy on growth. Protection requires you to shut down so as to avoid any intrusion. A sustained protection mode would not allow anyone to fully enjoy life. Only a fulfilling life can stimulate personal growth.
It has also been proven that stresses in our bodies, if not released, can damage the visceral organs from doing their work of digestion, absorption, excretion – fundamental to the good health of a human physical body. Chronic stress can, in addition, interfere with your sense of good judgement and lead to reduced intelligence.
A critical incident has always the power to make a person stop and think. It raises questions with respect to one’s beliefs, values, attitude or behaviour. How one respond to it becomes a turning point for one’s personal development and growth. Consider the people who walk across coals without getting burned. If they allow their fears to override their mind, they end up with burned feet. A person’s beliefs act like filters on a camera, changing how she/he sees the world. And one’s behaviour adapts to those beliefs.
Every person has, at least once or if not many times, come across people who have misperceived her/his identity. They have defined your identity as something that may have deeply conflicted with your self image. If those misperceptions are allowed to override one’s sense of self, realizing your potential is sabotaged. When individuals raise their levels of optimism and deepen their social connection, they not only raise their level of happiness, but also dramatically improve every single business and educational outcome tested for. The opposite is also true.
Success becomes within reach when you leave the old wounds behind in the past and focus on building your vision of the future, with your “two feet solidly rooted in the present”. When you have one foot in a boat towards the future and another one anchored in a boat facing your past – moving beyond your wounds is impossible. Old grudges become the very weight that stops you from achieving your potential.
When crisis hits, ripping down your old identity and rebuilding it makes you become a model of change OR scrambling to defend your existing identity makes you a symbol of status quo. Which one are you aiming at?