Comfortable with being different
A new Los Angeles Times profile describes some of Barack Obama’s journey, including these excerpts:
As a scholarship student at Occidental College in Los Angeles in 1979, Obama faced assertions of identity everywhere: the Democrat/Socialist Alliance, Black Student Assn., Jewish Student Action Coalition, feminist support group, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan.
It was here that [Barry] asked to be called by his given name, Barack. He later explained the decision to Newsweek as not an “assertion of my African roots” so much as “being comfortable with the fact that I was different and that I didn’t need to try to fit in in a certain way.”
He didn’t relate to the anger, the sense of marginalization that other black students felt, and when he played along with popular stereotypes and assumptions, he realized he was living, in his words, “a lie.”
“My identity might begin with the fact of my race,” he wrote in his memoir, “but it didn’t, couldn’t, end there.”
Learning about power
In 1988, he enrolled at Harvard Law School to learn about “power’s currency in all its intricacy and detail.” He was elected president of the university’s law review, one of the most prestigious journals of legal scholarship in the country.
At the end of Obama’s tenure, in 1991, the other review editors turned the joke on him with a parody of his life for the annual humor issue: “I was born in Oslo, Norway, the son of a Volvo factory worker and part-time ice fisherman. My mother was a backup singer for Abba. . . . At the age of 15, I went off to California to enroll at Accidental College. After a couple of years, I decided to go to Colombia, but when offered a position as a judge in Bogota, I fled to Chicago. There I discovered I was black, and I have remained so ever since.”
From Barack Obama: Search for identity, by Thomas Curwen, Los Angeles Times, August 28, 2008.
Obama’s new book is The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.
Breaking the rules
“I didn’t need to try to fit in in a certain way” — Maybe that sort of attitude – which can demand real courage, especially with the pressures of race and racism – is a hallmark of outstanding leaders and artists.
Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre argued that each individual must create meaning and identity for their own life. He wrote, “We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made of us.”
The idea of an outside authority for what we must be in order to create can be potently self-limiting.
Almost any craft or artform has some collection of criteria for what makes it work, what makes it good. But creative people in any field often bend or even break those rules.
[From my article Identity and Creating.]
building identity, leadership personal development, Barack Obama book, self growth
Article publié pour la première fois le 28/08/2008