Thursday, July 30, 2015

What's Your WORD?

When I saw the movie "Eat, Pray, Love" after reading the book of the same name, I was teaching a course at the university in which we explore "identity" and how it is socially, culturally, politically and ethically constructed. I've written about this before, but since our identities seem to go through formation and reformation throughout our lives, returning to this topic once again is appropriate.

In the movie and the book, author Elizabeth Gilbert, is faced with a question from her Italian friends. "What's your word?" For example, the word for Rome is "sex"; the word for New York is "money or commerce." What's your word? her friends wanted to know. Liz had no idea.

There is a difference between who I am and who you say I am. Who I am - if I were to define myself in one word - is not about what I do, or what roles I play, or my position in society or my family. I look at my students and I realize that quickly I assign "words" to them. However, in the context of education, we call these words "labels."

Labels belong on cans, not people.

Now I can define myself and label myself - I just don't want YOU to label me.

Some claim their word and with it comes a change in thinking, in perspective, in opinion - watch how each individual cause uses their word to sway the opinions of others, even those who were traditionally against them. Your word is powerful. But it's better to claim your own word than be assigned a word by others.

Parents and teachers alike need to consider how they've attached labels to the children in their care. Without knowing it, children do claim for themselves the word you've assigned to them. For better and for worse.

Words are powerful things. Words "do." They embody. They move.

So - what's your WORD? Who do YOU say you are?