Bali Contemplations - Who am I?
Driving in Canggu, on the popular shortcut road to the picturesque beach club ‘The Lawn’, my Grab driver made an interesting comment. “This is one of the most dangerous roads in the world”, he said. “I can see why it’s dangerous. I imagine there are a lot of accidents here”, I replied. And then the comment…” Yes, it’s mainly your people who aren’t used to the road who have accidents here”, he said with a friendly but cheeky smile. This got me thinking. “Your people”? Who exactly are my people? A few minutes earlier we had established that I was not from America or Jamaica but rather I was from Australia. I had explained to him that my roots are Zambian, but I have spent most of my life living in Australia. Bali, being so close to Australia, is the chosen holiday destination for many Australians especially those of us living in Western Australia. And so naturally his comment “your people” was a reference to Australians.
Upon reflection I ask the question who am I really? How do I identify? We live in a world where individuals are exercising their volitional capacity more than ever and even decide how they choose to identify from a gender perspective. Am I who my birth certificate or passport says I am? Am I defined by my accent? Or is it perhaps my occupation that defines me? or am I essentially who others think or say I am? Born in Zambia, I moved to London with my family within a few months where I spent the first 4 years of my life. We went back to Zambia where I lived for 9 years, and at the age of 13 moved to Sydney where we lived for 4 years. We moved back to Zambia and after 4 years I finally migrated to Perth where I have lived for the last 20 years or so. This exposure to different cultures makes the question of #identity a poignant one.
I feel very Zambian, although some would argue that I’m not quite Zambian enough. Statements such as “you’re not really that Zambian” or “you’re pretty much Aussie” are ones I hear often. So how do I identify? Who am I? I made a choice to identify relationally. What does that mean? Well basically it means that who I am is always determined by my significant #relationships. Consequently, I am a son, I am a brother, I am a friend and last but certainly not least, I am a father. In defining myself this way I am able to quarantine myself from the impact of other people’s opinions regarding who I am. When others seek to categorise me based on my job, accent, ethnicity, passport etc., I am able to draw on the fact that despite those things being a part of my life, those attributes DO NOT define who I am. It also means there is no room for failure, from an identity perspective. I could fall short at times in all my relationships, but it doesn’t change the fact that those relationships exist. Even when I am not the best father I am still a father. As a son or brother, I may be considerably disappointing and yet I remain a son and brother. Identity for me is a state of being and is not determined by my actions or choices. In other words, I am because I am, not because of what I do. And so ‘my people’ are fundamentally those with whom I have relationships.
Relationships are critical to who we are as humans. I wonder whether that is why broken relationships can be so difficult to navigate. I wonder if that helps us understand something of the magnitude of the impact a severed significant relationship can have on us. Is it no wonder people commonly speak about feeling lost after the dissolution of a relationship or even of not knowing who they are anymore? I have witnessed people experiencing major sadness and even #depression after being blocked or unfriended on social media, partners who are thrown into states of panic, #anxiety and anger over a social media ‘relationship status’. I wonder how different society would be if we were more concerned when we meet people for the first time NOT in what they do but who they are.