I like to claim that I’m a pretty independent person–picking up my life and moving it across states, time zones, or even oceans is a decision I’ve made many times, to the point where its become more of a habit than a life-altering shift.
Yet, I find comfort in community above all else. Spending long amounts of time alone makes me go crazy, and I try to avoid it at all costs. As extroverted and Type A as they come, I love meeting new people and learning about their lives, and adopting parts of their stories into mine. I see this most clearly in my eating habits–after awhile, I tend to start to eat how my friends or roommates do, for good or for bad.
Yet, when starting over in a new place, there are a few definite labels to which I assign myself. Wherever I go, I will be a Norwegian-American, ELCA-inclined Lutheran, liberal-leaning liberal arts graduate, former figure skater, quasi German speaker, and oxford-comma enthusiast from Wisconsin. Identifying myself as such has allowed me to maintain my own identity when I join new communities, and each has allowed me to find common ground with different people.
Do I claim to epitomize any of these groups? Should I be the poster child for Midwestern Liberal Arts colleges, or the Defend the Oxford Comma from the Grammatical Heathens campaign? Absolutely not. I identify with each of these things because they are important to who I am, but I recognize that there are aspects of each label with which I do not agree. Yet, everything I mentioned is a label (well, except for the Norwegian part. That was out of my control, but I’ll claim it anyway) I have chosen, or have chosen to continue to identify with, and with that choice, like any, comes responsibility.
By claiming to be part of any group, I think one needs to accept responsibility for the good and for the bad, and not to simply claim to be an enlightened member who disagrees with the group with which one continues to identify. By doing so, I can’t help but feel that one actively supports the very theories one claims to proudly contradict. Individuals do have the power to affect change, and communication across all factions is obviously important to the continued existence of society as we know it, as well as something from which I derive much joy. I don’t ever want to be a part of a community of exactly like-minded individuals, but I also think it’s absolutely fair to expect members of a community to examine which labels they assign themselves, to challenge those labels, and to allow people to change the labels with which they identify when necessary.
It’s to be expected that there will be challenges in community, and in leadership, because a group that is harmoniously static is not only boring to be a part of, but also won’t remain relevant. Great, dynamic leaders know that, and strong minded, yet passionate and multi-faceted community members are also well aware. It’s easy to get caught up in labels, honors, titles, etc. bestowed by others, but the fact is, what you have accomplished doesn’t define you.
You are who you choose to be.