It’s good to have a thought for the day, something to turn and twist like a Rubik’s cube to unlock some life pattern. Ian Hamlet gave us one in Thursday’s assembly and I’ve been turning it over ever since. Thursday’s was a reflection about identity: How do we come to the labels that we affix to ourselves? How many are put there by others? How many do we put on ourselves? And are they healthy?
No one gets to slide through the days in perfected insouciance. Everyone is aware of perceptions and labels, even those who slough them off and say they don’t matter. There is always the slight ticking, clattering, or drumbeat of anxiety-producing labels. How to avoid this? Ian asked us all to consider being the sole person on an island. Would we have a name? Would it matter? Would we be aware of skin color? Of color at all? Could we be aware of group affinity absent the group? And how would we build a sense of self without the “other” and labels?
We watch labels do their damage everywhere. It has gotten so raw and tribal in politics and media that the common currency of decency has been considerably devalued. They would be amusing, these sandbox brawls, if they also weren’t so frightening, if the consequences weren’t so real. There’s a lot in the print world these days about anxiety, and much of it seems to be the result of labels, micro-tribalism and the ease of their being spread in this time of social media. It’s hard to find space out of the tribe, and the result can be anxiety, crippling anxiety, which is something that more and more schools are seeing in student populations. It’s not a vague sense of unease; it’s a debilitating emotion. Go to any wellness meeting in any school and it will be one of the top topics.
Ian’s thought of the day made me think about the Dalai Lama and The Book of Joy. At the very outset, there is that timeless question: What is the purpose of life? “To find happiness,” the Dalai Lama observes. He goes on:
Sadly, many of the things that undermine our joy and happiness, we create ourselves. Often it comes from the negative tendencies of the mind, emotional reactivity, or from our inability to appreciate and utilize the resources that exist within us. The suffering from a natural disaster we cannot control, but the suffering from our daily disasters we can. – the Dalai Lama
A thought for the day is one of the characteristics of the Proctor’s assembly, one of the ways we find common footing as community. This week, Ian’s Rubik’s cube thought may be one that helps us navigate the cluttered landscape of labels and the anxiety they produce, while also helping us find the thready markings of the happiness path the Dalai Lama points us towards.
Please feel free to share your thoughts with me via email or in the comments below.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School