I’m obsessed with the elusive search for the ‘authentic self’ and truth-telling self-narratives. It’s an inconvenient obsession to have in a specie that prides itself on the cultivation of pleasing stories, agreeable storytellers, and archetypes; All pre-prepared masks for every being that is born into this world. Depending on how open-minded your particular cultural/ethnic/national sub-group is, you may have several masks to choose from. In my homeland, Somalia, the masks are not varied and limited in number. The good news is that our masks are heavy, and beneath them exists so many opportunities for acting and social plays.
I’ve been obsessed with removing mine in hopes of seeing how the sun feels on the authentic layers underneath. So obsessed that I’ve built my entire moral framework, value system, and personality around this search. Sometimes it can feel a bit inauthentic, because maybe there isn’t an authentic layer underneath this heavy mask. And maybe my obsession with authenticity and truth-telling inside a community breeded to tell lies is also an archetypal mask I wear. It feeds my ego by telling it that I’m actually one of the ‘good’, ‘authentic’ one. Ah, let the navel-gazing and privileged navel-gazing, self-reflection, circle-jerk commence. Now that I’ve written myself into a nightmare of plausibilities, I write all this to ask:
Who am I without my cultural, spiritual, national, parochial attachments and conditioning?
Would the inner core parts of me hold the same values, had I been born into an aristocratic 18th century Austrian family in Vienna? What if the variables didn’t change that much, and only a few lived circumstances, like instead of growing up in Canada, I never left Somalia, or I was born into a different region, perhaps a clan.
Who would I be then? Would I hold these ultra leftist values? Would I be an cynical and snarky? Would I still be a radical and a philosophical rebel? Would I enjoy writing? Would I be obsessed with trying to remove my mask? Would I tell more truths? Would I tell more lies? I think about that often.
Even though I live a very unconventional life, and hold some very, very unconventional belief systems, I’m very conventional in my speech. Infact, I’m a renowned people pleaser, and was conditioned to be such. I know very well, what other humans, particularly my kind of humans like to hear, and what they don’t. I suspect many of us do as well. I know what I like to hear. I have a hard time being genuine in speech, mostly because I’m scared all the time. I have a hard time understanding if that’s necessary. Does authenticity require authentic speech? Should we vocalize our beliefs, all the time?
I don’t know the answer, because I began writing to channel the ideas I knew I couldn’t express, ever, aloud. I began writing, and fell madly in love with words because, like most of us, I was raised to never speak, especially speak-up, particularly about anything resembling the truth.
Many of us were raised similar. Where I come from, one is allowed to act, and be a verb as loudly as they please, but the practice of speaking and naming that action into existence is a crime punishable by humiliation, alienation, exile and death. For example, In my community, one can relatively live a comfortable existence, should they engage in culturally taboo practices like, let’s say, umm…sex before wedlock (for women, this is a bit more tricky and violent). This is common and routine, and despite presenting as a traditional society, sexual activity outside of the confines of established traditional/religious institutions is the norm.
However, speaking about these activities, verbalizing these activities, noun-ing these, owning these activities, telling others about these activities is unspeakable. One mustn’t ever vocalize their verbs into nouns. And that’s where my obsession with authenticity began as a young child. I couldn’t understand why no one would speak about the things they’re clearing doing, engaging, touching, hurting, practicing, living, out loud. And whenever I spoke about these things, well, you know what happens.
Children learn at a very young age that adults don’t like the truth, and more importantly, they HATE when speech becomes a thing to discuss their activities. Not only did I learn this at home. I learned this in the Canadian educational system. I remember being a young kid in elementary school, the teachers would assign these insufferable journalling exercises were you were ordered to write about your weekends, or summer vacations.
And as you can imagine, Here I am, little Idil, conditioned from the crib to never talk about what happens in our home, found these exercises to be an existential nightmare. What would I write? I can’t talk about what happens, or describe these events. There’s no easy way to talk about the events that occur during the weekends, or over the summers. So with each passing week, I grew more frustrated with these assignments, as my teachers chucked my journals back at me, demanding I offer more complex and digestible narratives. So I would try again, and again, and again, until I get really good at writing stories that the adult teachers liked.
“This weekend, I went to the movies with my friend Sam, who is my best friend. Sam’s mother took us to the movies as a treat for the good homework we did this week. We watched the new Power Rangers movie, and I was so happy, because the Pink Ranger is my favourite. Power Rangers make me happy.
Afterwards, my family and I had pizza for dinner. It was so much fun. And Sunday, my cousins took me to the park, where we played for hours. Everyone was so happy. We danced, and laughed forever. Then on Sunday night, my mommy helped me with my homework, even though she was really tired from working. “ 12.05.1992
While those assignments taught me to tell lies, they also made me a brilliant storyteller, and a competent writer. I got so good at writing, thanks to my early teachers, that being a ‘writer’ became one of my favourite archetypes and mask.
Adults don’t like it when children tell the truth in my human community. “You hit me” the child would cry, and the disassociated and split off adult would strike back, “No I did not! You mustn’t tell lies little one warya beenta joogi ”, while striking the child, again, again, and again. Their minds terrified about the possibility of moments when the child, might, in their innocence, mouth and speak the things adult bodies do.
Have you experienced this? Did the adults in your childhood encourage truth-telling? Were words encouraged? Was your speech cultivated? Were you taught that goodness comes from telling the truth? Or were you as a child, told to tell the ‘truth’, you know, the digestible, embellished and convenient one?
Many of us were taught that adults don’t like it when children speak about the things they do, things that happen in the world around us, and many of us have downloaded and integrated that fact into every facet of our life, including the political life.
Anyway, I still can’t speak about things, and l, like most humans, tell many lies to survive in this world. But I’m finally learning to channel the little idil truth teller, and she’s given me enough strength to write about what adults do, and did, truly as they happened.