Friday, September 30, 2016

Identity and Persona

So a couple of days ago I talked to my students about identity and how we have more than one of them at any given time, even though we are just one person, one soul, one carbon-based organism (1Malaysia? No. Bad joke. Down boy).

I told them that everyone has multiple identities. For example, at that moment, they were a student in the class. At the same time, they were also a friend to their classmates. And a child of their parents. And a brother/sister to their siblings. And an et to their cetera.

And I guess I talked to them about identity because I was (am) having a hard time with it as well. Some of you might know that I am currently talking on two podcast on the regular. For those who don't, one is the Buah Mulut podcast which I usually host with my wife, and the other is the Mentol Pecah podcast in which I regularly get on to talk to the real host, Muzakir Xynll aka Mozek.

And in one of the episodes, Mozek talked about persona and how a comedian or a rapper has a persona and uses them to their advantage. It got me thinking about my persona and what my identity was as a person, but mostly as a performer. Like, Eminem has a persona that's a nasty person who doesn't give two effs about anything. Kendrick Lamar has this Compton good kid trying to find his way in life kinda thing going on. Louis CK is a divorcee with two kids that says a lot of disturbing and taboo things.

It made me ask "what am I?" And to be frank, I don't have an answer to that. I just don't know.

When I write songs, I'm desperate in finding things I want to sing or rap about. When I write articles, I'm desperate in finding what I want to write about and how I want to write about it. When I think about doing comedy, I think about what would I want to joke about and how I would joke about them. After typing all that out, I come to one main question: what about me is interesting?

Because a persona is a way of being, it's an identity. And, as I've said before, I have many identities. I'm a son, I'm a brother, I'm a husband, I'm a dude, I'm a teacher, I'm a writer, I'm a music fan, I'm a movie fan, I'm an et cetera.

What about these identities of mine is interesting? How may I look at the world through my existing identities and present my point of view to people in an engaging manner?

And the answer is still: I don't know. Thing is, I don't find myself to be a very interesting person. I'm pretty vanilla in every way that I can think of. I'm not particularly well-read about anything at all (even in the thing that I have a degree in, I only have cursory knowledge of). I'm a dilettante. A pretender. And a half-assed, uninteresting one at that.

I understand that the struggle is in finding out. I can't just say "pfff, aidono" and leave it like that. I need to find ways to look at myself, possibly look into myself and find a thing about me that I don't hate. And I have a feeling that that's going to be super tough. But once I find that thing, I can latch onto it and find a brief sense of fulfilment. Here's to hoping that I find the thing.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Thing My Headmaster Said

So my school replaced its headmistress with a new headmaster, and about a week ago (week ago), we had our first official staff meeting with him. He had a list of things to say, and he said them without dilly-dallying a whole bunch. I appreciate that very much.

Like I said, he mentioned a number of things (be in class when it's your time to be in class, pakai nametag, etc.) but one of the things that he asked of us teachers was to start each lesson with five minutes of talking about morals, values and the such.

This was a bit of a revelation for me because throughout my education as a teacher, we had always been taught that the first few minutes of a lesson was supposed to be set inductions (which is basically a thing a teacher does or talk about or show to the students to get them interested in the coming lesson). The headmaster addressed that, saying that yes, set induction was important, but he still wanted us to try to fit in a talk about values and morals before the lesson started.

His reasoning was that kids today don't have a lot of guidance in that regard, and if it didn't come from the teacher, then who else was going to talk to them about being decent human beings? (I'm paraphrasing, of course)

Yes, we were taught to instil values and morals during lessons while we were in teacher training, but it was never an explicit thing. It was supposed to be weaved into the lesson, or probably end up being a post-lesson pep-talk. This guy was talking about a pre-lesson pep-talk. And as I'm typing this out, I know it doesn't seem like a big leap of imagination, but it was for me. Because – as a long-time reader would recall – I am a mediocre teacher, and these small things appear big to me.

So I tried doing that in class. Every time I have entered class this past several days, I came in and started my hour with each class with a talk about being a decent human being. I didn't know how to do the "kalau kamu buat benda ni, kamu jahat. Kalau kamu buat benda tu, kamu baik, dapat pahala., masuk syurga" speech, so I tried to get the students to start thinking about things.

The very first topic I tried to talk about was respect. Spent a good five minutes trying to talk about respect and how it can manifest itself and why we would want to respect others and how we would do that. Earlier today I talked about self-awareness to eight-year-olds. I even talked about the concept of discipline. I hate that word.

Or rather, I hate what it has turned into. Or better yet, I hate what school has used the word for. It's always been used by people in positions of power (ie teachers) against those who were in positions of less power (ie students) to control them. The word has been thrown around to mean that if you obeyed and did what you were told, you were good and disciplined. And if you didn't, you weren't. And being an undisciplined human being was simply unacceptable to my old teachers. If you were bad, or did something bad, you would be dikenakan "tindakan disiplin", and that was definitely bad. So the word has always meant – to me at least – physical/emotional abuse.

So in talking about the word/concept, I got myself and the students to think about what the word meant, why it was important to them and why it was important that they had it. And I tried my best to tell the students that there was such a thing as self-discipline. That discipline doesn't come from a cane; it comes from themselves, ourselves. That some of them already have it when they baca doa makan before they eat without anybody asking them to do so, or when they put a piece of trash in the garbage bin without anybody telling them to. That they could be the masters of their own discipline.

And by telling them that, I hope that they grow up to have a more positive view of the word than I did.

Now, you would think that talking to eight and nine year old kids about these things is ridiculous, right? That they're too high-faluting for a child's brain to process. At least, these were my reservations about talking to them before I did. I worried that they wouldn't get it. That they wouldn't pay attention to what I was saying. That they would continue making noise in the class the whole time I'm talking about those things.

To my surprise, the kids responded positively. At least, most of them did. More than I expected, for sure. They were attentive. They listened to what I had to say. They answered my questions when I asked. Several maintained eye contact with me throughout my talking about those things (which was a little bit of a surreal experience for me, to be frank). So that's encouraging. For me, at least, because now I can continue down this path of talking about ideas with the students and helping them think about things that I was never invited to think about when I was anywhere near their age.

So this is a bit of a thank you post to my new headmaster for putting this idea in my head. It feels great doing it, and I feel like I'm doing something positive for once (I rarely feel that way about anything I do). So thank you.