In kindergarten you used to just ask somebody’s name so you could call them if you wanted to play with the cars or when your doll was ripped out of clothes. With a simple first name, you were content, you played together, talked about how nice the teacher was and you became best friends. No hustle, just having fun. You were you. I was I. Very simple. When you get older, everything changes. You have to think about everything. And questions like ‘Who are you?’, ‘What are you?’ and ‘Who/What do you like?’ become more and more important and a simple answer isn’t enough anymore. Everything has to be justified and everybody needs a label.
I don’t know who came up with the idea of labeling everything, but I don’t like it. Sometimes it’s practical of course that things have names. It is easy you can ask for an apple in the grocery store, because you don’t like pears. Or to ask for mandarins, cause oranges are not the only fruit. For months, every Monday – not to early of course – you go to the grocery store to get a kilo of apples, apparently you don’t like bananas either. After a couple of months, at a crazy fun party, somebody serves you a fruit salad and without noticing you stick a piece of banana in your mouth. And it is not at all as disgusting as it used to be. The next Monday, you ask for bananas at the grocery store. The nice young man gives you the bananas without asking difficult questions on why you changed your old habit of buying apples. It’s nice to have something different: good choice, enjoy it! Fine if you want to eat pears every week. Great if you want to eat a banana sometimes. And if you want something else every week and if you want to eat an exotic papaya for once: do your thing.
Why don’t we act all like the man in the grocery store when it comes to identity? If we would let go of all the expectations of others, we would make it a lot easier for everybody to try something else for once. Why not, life has so much to offer! Instead we get angry, we are disappointed or we react totally shocked if somebody changes of ideas or preference for once. Sometimes we are so trapped in our old patterns that we forget that a pattern is not definitive. It is not a reason to get angry, to be disappointed or shocked if you want to eat a banana instead of an apple for once. Sometimes you like one thing, the other time another. Nothing to be difficult about and it would really help if everybody could let go – at least a bit – of his expectations.
If we would not only do this at the grocery store, but also when it comes to identity, we would make life a lot easier for a lot of people. Identity is hybrid, fluid and always moving. Sometimes it can look like a pattern and then we label it, and we put it in a box. But identity changes constantly and labels make it hard to express that movement. What if we would all let go of the expectations and labels we use? As children we did it. You were you. I was I.
“Enchantée, I’m Malou’’. Simple as that.
(This column was originally written in Dutch.)