News & Events
Define Me Differently: Exploring Our Identities!
- November 13, 2017
- Posted by: Caelan Cooney
- Category: Blog
While I was at work the other day, I was talking with a coworker and we had a very interesting conversation that challenged my worldview. We were talking about the basis of different fields within neuroscience, and the topic of neuropsychology came up. Neuropsychology is the study of how brain functioning or physiology affects our behavior and cognition.
My coworker said that there is a crucial difference between the brain and the mind. While the brain our a vital organ made up of cells and neurons, our mind, including our thoughts and consciousness, is what truly makes us who we are. I had always thought of these things as being one and the same. So, when I heard this statement, I started thinking more critically about how we, as people, organize and understand the world.
Before I continue, I think it’s important to share that my background is in STEM and as such, I’ve thought about the world in a very “singular definition” kind of way. When I was in school and my family asked me what my favorite subjects were, I would always respond with “Math and science.” And when asked why, I always quipped back with, “Because math and science have only one correct answer.” I liked the certainty of these fields. It wasn’t until this particular conversation that I decided to delve deeper.
Where I found a disconnect was in our ability to define concrete things like mathematical equations and scientific data versus defining people. I realized that this is what my coworker meant by the brain and the mind. I can understand the physical components of a person, but to understand who a person is, is much more complicated. Though we try to do this by assigning generic labels to more complex concepts like our personalities or our identities, it is rarely that simple. Which led me to ask: Why do we place such an emphasis on needing to categorize everything around us? Is it because of our fear of the unknown and those categories help to ease that fear? Or maybe because they help to unite people through a common knowledge or understanding?
While the underlying reasons may be different for each of us, it’s important to think about the impact this way of thinking has on our ability to connect with others.
First, we have to think about the different ways that we define ourselves. Take a few minutes to brainstorm all the things that make up your identity – your culture, your job, your aspirations, your relationships, your faith, etc. Then, examine each label and decide, are they a part of your core self or have they been placed on you by others?
For example, one label placed on me since birth has been male. Yes, it is true that I am a male, but I do not feel that the way male is traditionally defined is a part of my core identity. I have always felt that I was trying to live up to the imposed characteristics of what it meant to be male, but it wasn’t until I was able to discover that being a male meant something completely different to me, that I truly found myself. When I was able to embrace my sexuality and identify with the label of being a gay male, it changed my outlook on life and continually helps me to positively shape my true identity.
Thinking about how we define ourselves can be revealing and freeing (as it was for me), but thinking about this in a leadership context prompts an even deeper conversation. How do we place labels on others and what expectations and biases do we have because of those labels? Even more importantly, how can we change these labels in order to use them to empower ourselves and others? Once we find a way to do this, our labels can begin to have a positive impact! Just remember, it’s up to each and everyone of us to find a way to do this.
Who would have known that a conversation about brains would prompt such a profound discovery for me. Though I know this may not be the same for all, I do want to encourage everyone to take the time to decide how labels influence our lives. Whether it be a positive or negative influence or just a way to give us a way to explain things, recognizing the biases that come with labels is what is most important. Which leaves us with the question:
Can we exist without them?
This is a very difficult question to answer, but a very worthwhile one!
Watch this spoken word performance by Prince Ea. The video has been watched over 13 million times on YouTube. Afterwards, whether or not you agree with the message, have a discussion about the video. Talk about what it made you think about, how it makes you feel, and what actions you want to take now that you’ve seen it.
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