To spend your childhood years building this box, filling it with all these memorabilia, making it your own and spilling more and more out of it the older you get; the essence of life.
Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are. Show me your title and I will tell you how much respect you will be accorded. Isn’t that how it goes? So polarising this thing called achievement that when you wear it, you trigger so much in people that it begins to change what your hard work means. So much so we are trying to run away and learn to define ourselves outside what we do. These titles, that the world seeks from us so it can understand us, become our fetters.
I remember sitting in a primary school classroom, there were about forty unassuming young bright faces with me, looking at this teacher telling us that to be a great man, (read as “person”) one must learn to respect the lowest worker in a corporation the same as the one on the highest level. A younger me took it to mean at the end of the day, titles shouldn’t mean anything in place of human decency. Ironically, the same teacher would go on to demand respect by virtue of the position he held.
I smile at that memory every so often because the world took those young boys and pitted them against one another in this system that was driven by titles. The respect you were given was determined by how many times your name was called during prize-giving days. The flavour of respect was determined by whether there were “sports” or “academics” in the theme of your name being called.
I say this to say that if this is a system we are trying to beat, we are decades behind. They gave us all the materials and tools to build these boxes. They gave us the dopamine rush condition for associating ourselves with certain titles. I stopped trying to fight the fact that we live in a society that highly favours titles more than the people who wear them. Sometimes, to demand that respect, we must wear these titles on our chests to give this illusion that what we are saying actually matters.
It sips so deep into our beings that we judge as deeply as the schools that we went to because somehow that is also a title of the person you become. There is some truth to that but there is something behind the truth that I have become crazy fascinated with. I do not care much for the biases but for the product forged outside and within those biases.
Remembering a conversation I had, I could pick it out; this fear of the judgement of where they came from. The school they went to. Where they lived. The people they had around them growing up. If I could go back in time, I wish I could soothe that wounded soul with a little more understanding and appreciation for this person they have become. I don’t think I put enough emphasis on that before I went on to fan the flames of viva la revolution against the system… I digress.
My perspective is one that has been morphed by the net I cast in the vast sea every time I meet new people in the different sects of life. I have met stereotypes and complete contradictions, all products of the same system. I think it even goes beyond the accolades and the things that are external. Some of these titles are character-based and I will admit I have a few. To be quite honest, it is a spark that lit this match and I decided to just jot down some thoughts.
I am guilty of hoarding these titles because I like the way they sound next to my name more than anything else. It is for this reason that I find I have backed myself into a corner of societal expectation that honestly cuts me too when I don’t meet them. I am the maker and the wielder of this blade I have used to cut myself. I mean what do you do when you fall out of line with something that you proudly associated yourself with? The more self-righteous, the greater the fall from grace.
This is not to say it is wrong to love the things that people associate you with, especially when they are good. I think the cautious understanding of why they associate you with it is more important than the actual title they give you. It is a death by a thousand cuts that leaves you bleeding out everything that you believe in just to connect with people and it isn’t so beautiful a sight.
I think I much prefer it these days, to be associated with the meat of the title. At least it is what I choose to associate with. I keep asking myself, what is it to the name that they have so graciously accorded me before I give them the satisfaction of identifying with it? It takes a little longer sometimes but we are getting there. I don’t wish to so willingly identify with a name before I embody all that it takes to call myself that name. Until then, I am just me. Just Frankhie.
I have greyed lots of black and white and I’m a little more comfortable in this place. I sometimes crave those greys so who am I to try to judge? If I am to ground it in some example it would be that I am in fact extroverted but the reserved nature of my being makes people believe otherwise and it is always such an interesting interaction to have people argue with me about myself. In essence, to fit in that box created by that title may mean contorting out of shape. Career-wise, community-wise, soul-wise.
This is not some grand revelation but just the little boy in primary school growing up; I don’t think titles define a person but a person defines the title, to put it Frankly.