Are our differences arbitrary abstractions?

After viewing Barry, the story of young Barack Obama on Netflix, I came to the realisation that no one is above the pursuit of self-actualisation.

The story followed Obama in his early Columbia years around the time of his father’s death and pre-Michelle. His quest to find himself and to fit in either with his white classmates or with black people was an eternal struggle for Obama. I would say he was in a permanent state of melancholy. The thing is we are all trying to find a group or subculture where we can fit in and be a part of a community. Yet not many of us realise that it is in standing out that we succeed in life.

As a Caribbean national straight off the jumbo jet, I have struggled with finding my place here in the UK. Most recently, I have had this yearning to return home – I find myself very sad. One might even say homesick. I guess this is what resonated with me the most. What the movie also revealed to me is that if Obama did not conquer that storm, accepted and appreciated his quirks, he would not have become the great man who we all admire and love. To me, the most apparent mistake Barrymade was focusing on his uniqueness in a negative light. He carried it around like a cross. Until an older, interracial couple told him to embrace that which was unique and appreciate how American he really was. Thus, confirming that in most instances, we as humans need to see ourselves in the eyes of others to truly understand our intrinsic value. Without that reflection, we fail to get past the flaws that we alone see. And sometimes, it takes a stranger to highlight and celebrate our worth.

Agreeably, the new narrative and modern understandings are that our differences are arbitrary abstractions and that self-love is the only key to success. Yet, in the movie, Obama felt out of place among his colleagues, even in his romantic relationships. He had a yearning to be a part of a community, where he would be accepted with his arbitrary abstractions.  I honestly think that it is human nature to seek some amount of validation from others. Whether this is right or wrong, it is not my place to say. What I do know for sure is the need to belong, and the desire for human connection is paramount to one’s survival. This is why societies, fraternities or sororities become such integral components of college or university life. In fact, you remain a member for life. Doesn’t this contradict the modern narrative?

The point is being unique or different is not a burden to be carried, nor is it arbitrary. It should be a trophy to be celebrated. Our differences and traits are what make this world a beautiful place. And what makes you a lovely person. The aim of life should not only be to fit into a group or get lost in a crowd; one should aim to stand out. Let your presence be known. While we struggle with life and its long and arduous journey, I believe that in your darkest, saddest moments, joy can be found. And like Obama, your challenges, individual characteristics and drive will become your stepping-stones to realising your full potential.

Dara D

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