[Campus Commentary]What happened to individual identity?I don’t think there’s ever been a time in history when a sense of identity has become so important. Today we live in a world of globalization, interdependence and compromise. Boundaries are crossed in the blink of an eye, or with the swipe of a card. It’s a world that’s become so busy because in trying to cater to 6 billion people ― and counting― it has become easier to reduce everything to a common denominator. Increasingly, people have made a habit of categorizing everything. It’s because there are too many people, too many things, that we’ve stopped looking at each person as a singular being, but rather, as being a “type.” Welcome to the global village.
Full disclosure: I am a university student who enjoys the privileges and luxury of being able to hang out at cafes or bars every so often. My classes seldom end later than sunset and before I sleep I usually have time to read some e-mails or a few pages of a novel. I don’t yet earn a paycheck, and sometimes I can be lazy. If I were a working man, though, things would be very different for me, especially in this country.
If I were to start a conversation with one of the very busy men and women scuttling about on the streets of Seoul, I would most probably receive advice on how to become “successful” in life and how stressful it is to be a working person.
I’ve been lectured numerous times by people close to me (including my family) on the “realities” of society, how cutting-edge I have to be and what type of person I must be to become a leader of the pack. Gone are notions of self-confidence and faith in yourself to become a success.
It has dawned on me that most advice aimed at young people these days, aimed at gearing them up for the future, lacks a sense of encouraging the emergence of the individual and stimulating one to seek an individual identity.
There is no doubt in my mind that a person who believes in himself is more likely to succeed in life than a person who’s merely received “life instructions” from a more experienced member of society. A person who has a grip on personal identity has stability, enough to be confident and focused, and this gears that person up for individual growth. If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, that is exactly what’s at the top.
It seems to me there are fewer and fewer people in the world who value individual identity enough, and the spirit of the age does nothing to help this. This is apparent particularly on campuses.
A lot of my generation of students have been told only what we needed to do to get into university, and now, without a doubt, many are being told how to graduate and even how to get a job.
I believe there is already enough material and sound advice for young people to be exposed to the professional world. But if we would just for a moment focus on the person, we’d allow these people to find themselves and appreciate that they’re more than just members of the global village.
Is this too idealistic? Perhaps, but then, wouldn’t it be better to be asking the grand question, “Who am I?” rather than what the stock market prices are?
*The writer is a reporter with the SNU Quill, an English news magazine at Seoul National University.
by Cho Hyunmin