“How do I define myself?”
That’s a question I asked myself last week and I came up with this answer:
For a long time it was my education – both being a member (a student) and an enforcer (instructor). I have known little else and the seemingly easy decision to leave the education system was scary and difficult.
Now, I have to think about it this way: I’m a new person with skills that just so happen to be education derived.
For many years, this idea of trying to label myself has been one I’ve been struggling with and attempting to resolve. Many nights would be spent scribbling down ideas, and many days involved evaluating myself based on what I saw in the mirror.
None of it ever gave me a good answer.
I like to collect quotes. These quotes aren’t always inspirational – some quotes are merely interesting ideas, research, or turns of phrases. I came across a quote today that struck me for its insightful look at labels and its simplicity. It’s from a larger interview in a Japanese magazine called More, the April 2011 edition:
Interviewer: The things Nino feels aren’t seen with the eyes, and aren’t heard with the ears, but instead something exquisite found in the depths of the heart. He’s the type able to link together on a deep level without being bound by substantial things or by values. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate romanticist!?
Nino: To label this sort of thinking as a romanticist and make it seem special would make the world a boring place. I mean, to me, this is just something that’s normal (smiling). It’s the same with work and with relationships with people and everything else, but it’s more fun, and enjoyable, if you don’t convince yourself that everything is set into a particular way. I think then it can be fun even when things can be difficult.
Translated by Sunina
“If you don’t convince yourself that everything is set into a particular way”
From birth we’ve been a part of the label “game.” We’re labeled by gender and then by race and by age. We’re later labeled due to whether we play sports, an instrument or nothing at all. We’re labeled based on who we hang out with, what music we listen to and what we value. Soon we label parts of our own bodies and even our own minds. This “game” that started out innocent enough with our cute little baby dresses and osh-gosh overalls soon has turned into a restricting, suffocating series of costumes. Costumes that we can scarcely see ourselves out of, even in the privacy of our homes.
With each costume comes a particular role to play. We know what’s expected from us – from our thoughts, actions and even dress. For many of us, this costume play has melded itself so seamlessly into our lives that we swap one for another at the blink of an eye.
For years I’ve seen myself as an academic. For years I’ve seen myself as fat. For years I’ve seen myself as a minority with no place to go. For years I’ve let each and every label bind me and keep me in a particular place.
This is what makes changing that costume so difficult. How do I know which one to pick? Which one will ultimately make me happy? How will others view my choice?
Nino is short for Ninomiya Kazunari. He’s a Japanese pop music idol (from the group Arashi) who also acts on television and in film (you might have seen him in Letters from Iwojima). One might think that the words of a pop idol are hardly worth listening to and on one level I’d agree. In the Japanese music industry in particular, the music idols aren’t known for authenticity but for carefully sculpted responses. Nino, however, has always seemed more genuine to me than others.
Regardless of whether his response is authentic or not, there’s something simple and refreshing about his view on labels. If we can only “convince” ourselves that labels aren’t necessary or important and if we can only accept things as they are,then life will be more enjoyable. If we stop worrying about what to call ourselves in order to feel fulfilled, then maybe we will feel more confident of our self-image.
Maybe our self-image will transform into a state of being without the weight of labels.
I know that I’ll still struggle with my self-image. In fact, I’m not sure if I’m even capable of not seeing my life as an “image”. This quote hasn’t solved any of my issues, but I want to keep his idea fresh in my mind. I want to remind myself that life deserves to be spent being free.