Te Reo and my search for identity

I guess if you don’t know what you’re missing it’s hard to look for it. I never realized I’d been searching for my identity. I suspect it’s what many of us spend much of our lives doing without being fully aware. Deep down a few things always felt somewhat short-changed in my life and having a clear sense of identity is now obvious to me as being one of those things.

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Waka prow – Waitangi Treaty Grounds

I probably should have cottoned on to this when at the age of 14 having had my first trip away (to Auckland) I proudly returned home with a T-shirt which loudly declared “Pommy Bastards”. My English mother (coming to New Zealand when she was 17) was duly unimpressed.

Suffice to say I didn’t know who I was, though I clearly didn’t want to be English!

More correctly I have always wanted to be simply a “New Zealander”.

Defining what qualified me as a New Zealander has always been difficult for me, despite my great Grandfather arriving in 1870. I could see a clear ‘right’ for those of Māori descent, but for everyone else, I have always felt the waters to be somewhat murky, and at times definitely muddied.

Fast forward some 40 odd years from the T-shirt and returning to New Zealand I find that in public engagements and education forums Te Reo has been fully embraced and incorporated as a way of life; it’s the way we do thing around here. Though embracing this is not universal, for me it was like a light being switched on.

What began perhaps 11 years ago when working at Te Papa and then a year later in running a Directors (Governance) course for the Te Arawa Lakes trust, and loving every minute of both those experiences, I was now able to see a path to my New Zealand identity – Te Reo.

Not simply Te Reo as a language, but to understand the culture and to embrace the more spiritual connections Māori have with the land, water, flora and fauna. I now had a vehicle to strengthen my connections with the past and to reach out in a way I had never previously explored.

I’ll update the journey as I progress but meantime ponder these questions:

Is it critical to a mixed society’s social and emotional success and security that the majority of the population understand the history and customs of that lands ‘first peoples’?

How critical is it for our own identity for us to connect with or retain the language and customs of our resident country as it was initially settled, while not foregoing that we are likely to also wish to connect with and explore that of our forebears?

My short answers are: Yes. Absolutely.

Identity

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Who am I?

One of the best books I’ve read this last decade is Andrew Solomon’s Far From the Tree. It is both heart-wrenching and reaffirming, honest without judgement and a candid look into the struggles of the author himself.

The subtitle is Parents, Children and the search for identity. The exploration is of value to everyone. At its simplest, it’s the two sides of the coin that people with disabilities (which Solomon applies in the broadest sense) both face and find themselves on. It provides reflection for understanding the very grey/gray area surrounding all of our stories; what they mean to us and how they are perceived by others.

My current read is Michael Pollan’s How to change your Mind in which Pollan explores (as researcher and exponent) the world of Psychedelics. Apart from the fascinating history and recounting of experiences, one brief excerpt really struck me having read several of Pollan’s books.

Pollan is completely candid in response to his own question of whether he really wanted to go into the depths of where psychedelics would probably take him:

“…No!-to be perfectly honest. You should know I have never been one for deep or sustained introspection. My usual orientation is more forward than back, or down, and I generally prefer to leave my psychic depths undisturbed, assuming they exist.”

Boom! There goes my long-held belief that everyone wants to dig deeper into who and why they are here, and all that stuff.

No, they don’t!

I’m not sure if I’m envious or sorry for those who don’t want to delve like I do. And so I loop back to Andrew Solomon, his wisdom informs me the correct response is to ‘accept’. It is what it is, it just is.

Everyone deserves to be and, I expect, wants to be, validated. Without such a ‘process’ “identity” can be challenging or even impossible to find.

When I find others who “want to know more about themselves” it validates who I am, and because of that I readily validate them.

What do we do when we encounter those whose identity is different to ours? Do we reach out to validate or do we shy away? Do we attempt to understand or do we avoid the dialogue?

I suspect we are all ‘guilty’ to varying degrees of staying within our own ‘identity cocoon’ when so much richness lies just outside of it. I also accept that occasionally my own responses have strayed into the realms of ignorance, conceit and arrogance.

What if we start each interaction with Stephen Covey’s Fifth Habit  “Seek first to understand and then be understood.”?

If you read Pollan’s book you may believe the simpler answer is that we all just try some psychedelics, but given the challenge associated with that, how about we simply begin with a change in mindset with how we approach each day:

Who’s identify can you validate today?

How could you do that?

 

*Note this is the first in a brief series of posts I have written around the concept of identity. Post to follow are:

  • Te Reo and my search for identity.
  • Corporate culture and personal identity.
  • Why we need to be able to greet in multiple languages.

Give me a reason!!

Excuse or Reason?

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Excuse: I’ve been busy so haven’t got around to posting another blog.

Reason: I’ve been distracted lately and haven’t given this blog the time it needs.

A somewhat benevolent Chairman once pulled me up for giving an excuse. It was a lesson well learned and a cue I since have used often for self-improvement and to tune into the conversations I have and assess the credibility of those I’m engaged with.

Anyone who talks with genuine reasons is well ahead in the credibility stakes. Just pouring out excuses is an easy habit to slip into but an unattractive trait to wear:

Excuse Reason
Sorry I’m late the traffic was unbelievable!!! Sorry, I failed to allow for the traffic (which I know about) and left later than I should have.
Sorry I didn’t do “x” I’ve been so busy lately. Sorry, my bad, I didn’t give “x” the priority I implied I would and I overlooked it. I will have it to you by 4pm today.
Sorry I meant to call but forgot. Sorry, I should have called you. (No reason, but an admission of fault)
I forgot to do my homework, I was busy with other things. Sorry, I wasted too much time on my tech and didn’t do my homework.
I know I said I wouldn’t do it again, next time will be better. I let you down, and I let myself down, I’m sorry.
I didn’t mean it. Sorry, I should not have pushed my sister.
I didn’t mean it. That was unkind and unthinking of me. I apologise.

It’s likely some of these will resonate, we all have our guilty moments.

The strength is in acknowledging ‘guilt’ or fault and not falling into the 5-year-olds plea of “It wasn’t me”.

If you can add a commitment to a genuine reason then the value of the apology goes up significantly:

  • I will have the work to you by 4pm…
  • I will call them straight away (and you do)…
  • I’ll work late tonight and have that on your desk in the morning (and you do)…
  • I promise not to use any tech until my homework is completed.

But mostly, next time you are addressing an incomplete task or action, contemplate whether your response is the real reason or the excuse of a 5-year-old.

True leaders will only give reasons.

Dance like no-one is watching

Tensions
Making choices to do new things

This graphic is a simple illustration of why some things never see the light of day.

The return to my blog while not “new” is a new beginning. It is a true reflection of the tension illustrated here.

We can spend much of time answering questions that haven’t been asked or answered other than inside of our own heads:

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Why do this?  Will anybody follow or benefit?

…and the answer to almost all of these types of questions – is that other than yourself

“Who cares?”

  • If you’re not doing it, nothing is happening.
  • If it’s not out there, nobody is judging you, nobody is looking.
  • If you’re not speaking with an independent voice, then how are you relevant?

To paraphrase Seth Godin – don’t keep waiting for the perfect horse on the carousel – just get on they are all going to the same place.

So here I am.

I’ll be reflecting on many things, and hopefully doing it in a way that reflects an attitude of dancing like nobody is watching.

I will be dipping into:

  • How and why we change
  • What we say and how we say it
  • How we respond and how we react
  • What blindsides us and what truly motivates us
  • Assumptions we make
  • Things we fail to challenge, and those that we do
  • Challenges we fail to take and those that we choose to pursue

I beleive:

  • That we care more deeply about each other than most of us care to or know how to express.
  • That community is at the core of humanity.
  • That we all wish for a better world – the world that we share, but at present not so well.

I hope to bring something to that discussion

My primary motivation is that this blog may change somebody’s life for the better – bring more clarity, more insight, and more reflection at a time when they need it, now or in the future. I also hope people will use this to look back and reflect on their own experiences and take the learning forward.

Being a father of 2 wonderful daughters this also serves as a capsule for them to understand me and perhaps even themselves better in years to come when I can’t be around to explain myself.

I’m on this blog knowing that it makes me more real, more vulnerable, more reflective and considerate.

Thank you for giving me your time.

Richard