Letters from the dorm: Creating a new identity in the modern world

Elaine Leung
Elaine Leung |

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Have you ever left a lesson feeling both excited and confused at the same time? It’s as if a lot of new ideas are jumbled up in your mind, desperately waiting for you to untangle each of them, one by one.

I recently attended an International Relations lecture on Hannah Arendt, a political thinker heavily influenced by her experience as a Jew during the Holocaust. Central to Arendt’s writing is the idea of plurality – in her words, “men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world.”

To consider just one group of people is to overrule plurality and to go against the experience of living on Earth. Arendt wanted a world without borders. She felt that nationalism – the idea that a nation should consist of a people who share a common language and culture – only leads to violence.

It reminds me of the recent news of 16-year-old K-pop star Chou Tzu-yu. She held the Taiwanese flag during her appearance on a South Korean television show, and was called a “Taiwan Separatist” by mainland singer Huang An.

Identity has always been both a confusing and sensitive topic. What do you identity yourself as if your parents were both from country A, yet you have always lived in country B? And of course, political situations make everything more complicated.

This is why, in the lecture, I was so intrigued by Arendt’s idea of plurality and that the world should not be divided into identities. Idealistic as it might sound, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all dumped our prejudices about someone’s identity?

Perhaps, for the first step, the world would already be so much simpler if we all considered ourselves in the most fundamental form. As a guest on The Pierre Berton Show in 1971, Bruce Lee was asked if he thought of himself as Chinese or North American. He brilliantly answered: “You know what I want to think of myself? As a human being.”