ABOVE AND BEYOND
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world"- Nelson Mandela.
I teach in higher education in Japan, with a sharp focus on issues related to Identity, Gender, Race, Difference, Exclusion and more. During teaching sessions, which are conducted in an open and collaborative atmosphere with strong emphasis on classroom debate to nurture active student participation, I am invariably confronted by some students who call these concepts 'abstract', i.e., difficult to comprehend. Very interesting indeed! We virtually live and communicate our Identity every minute of our existence, and yet call it abstract! I too remember being intrigued by the notion of Identity when I started becoming aware of it as something more than just a part of our standard lexicon. Who am I? I have lived long enough in Japan, so am I Japanese? What does it mean to be Japanese? Who determines who I am? What are the discerning factors behind such determination? There may be no easy answers to these questions, but such questions are certainly not abstract.
‘I am Japanese…’
To truly understand how we all communicate and manipulate the idea of Identity in our daily lives, we need to detach ourselves from our personal understanding of Identity and decipher how others perceive this concept. The real meaning of the statement 'I am Japanese' becomes more evident when we try to comprehend what it means to different people.
For instance, it could have an entirely different meaning for an Indian-looking Japanese person identifying himself or herself as Japanese. The statement 'I am Japanese' could actually signify a constant behind-the-scene struggle to resolve his or her true Identity. It is only after going through this exercise a myriad times that we become capable of understanding the true nature and depth of issues and problems related to the concept of Identity, both at an individual as well as social level.
Furthermore, once we learn different stories about what 'I am Japanese' means to different people, we are in a better position to understand the Japanese Identity from multiple perspectives. We are then able to question the very concept of what it means to be Japanese or any other nationality, which then takes us to the question of national Identity. This is when we reach a state where we become capable of thinking beyond the original statement, 'I am Japanese.'
Getting to know different stories is a way to rise ABOVE the so-called abstract, which then enables us to go BEYOND it.