Forge Meaning; Build Identity

Anyone who I’ve had a genuine conversation with in the last year or so has undoubtedly been subjected to my recommendation that they watch a TED talk that I thought would give them more insight into whatever particular situation they were telling me about. In fact, I’m 99% positive that I could recommend a very appropriate and relevant TED talk for, well, pretty much any situation! Every single TED talk I’ve had the distinct pleasure of experiencing introduced a new song to my internal orchestra or played an old favorite I hadn’t heard in a long time and hadn’t realized I’d missed so much.


Maybe it’s the time limit that makes each story that much more  intense because of its required condensation…ooooorrrr…..

Could be my hormones adding dimensions that are unique to this phase of my growth as a person…

Or perhaps it’s the nearly fanatical admiration I feel for people who can stand up in front of crowds ranging from intimate to stadium to live viral, and be able to string a coherent sentence together – and not just one sentence, a whole bunch of them!

You know what, though? It doesn’t matter which of those reasons is closest to the truth. The fact is this: my life and my world have been significantly enriched thanks to the wonderful speakers that have shared their ideas, their lives, their stories and themselves with me and with the world. I could write a post about each  and every one of them – and I just might, haha – but today I’m focusing the spotlight on a particular pair that are the first 2 hits on a playlist entitled, “Stand Up to Bullying.”


The first talk is entitled, “To This Day…For the Bullied and Beautiful,” given by Shane Koycza, a writer and modern day poet extraordinaire who was hilarious and heart-wrenching from one moment to the next. My heart broke for the boy who had done his best to just keep going from day to day in a world where he faced the gut-wrenching perception in his home life that his parents had left because they didn’t want him, and then from the time he stepped onto the school bus in the morning, having to deal with nasty little asshole bullies who had nothing more entertaining to do than pick on someone who had done nothing to deserve it. And this was just the first part of the story. When he started in on what felt like a more formal format of his spoken verse, I was hanging on every line while tears hung from my every eyelash. At times, the emotion I felt was so overwhelming, so physical, that I had to stop the video.


The second talk, “How the Worst Moments In Our Lives Make Us Who We Are,” given by Andrew Solomon, a writer, lecturer and professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, had me vacillating between tears and outrage at what he had been subjected to in his formative years. But as his talk progressed, he shared the poignant beauty of what he decided to do with his experiences. Instead of letting them shape him in bitterness, he chose to find meaning in them and forge his meaning through them. He eloquently explained how he came to the simple but powerful conclusion that we can “forge meaning, build identity” in our own lives and in our own ways.  He talked of the many brave and courageous people that he interviewed over the years and how he was surprised again and again at how many of them viewed their situations as opposed to how he initially thought they would – and how he initially had. One woman he talked with had children with special needs on a level that meant they would always need someone’s care and she gifted him with her perspective that it’s all about perspective. She told him how her children were a gift because she saw them that way. They were her blessing, not her burden, as many might see them. Instead of seeing it as unfortunate that her children would never be able to care for themselves, she saw the blessing in having been chosen to be the one to care for them. She forged meaning out of what many would call misfortune by choosing to view the situation from her own perspective and not the one the rest of the world would most likely choose to see. Through his work and with the aid of these amazing people he found a way to heal the wounds inflicted by the ignorance and intolerance of others and encourages all of us to do the same. I know for certain that Mr. Solomon is someone I would always be most proud to call my friend.

By each of us forging our meaning by learning from our experiences, as seen from a positive, growth-inspired perspective, together we can build an identity as a community, as a species, that is built on love and acceptance. I believe that it’s possible and will do all I can to see it happen.

Both speakers brought me to tears several times during their talks. I can’t say that I ever faced the kind of bullying these men experienced, but I had a taste of it in elementary school that has always stuck with me, even all these years later. It’s a large part of why I feel so strongly about the subject of bullying and intolerance and ignorance. But my personal experience with bullying isn’t the only reason I feel so strongly about this subject; the other main factor would be my parents.

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My dad was a big Samoan dude that smart people didn’t mess with. He was born in American Samoa, the oldest of nine, and came to Hawaii when he was about three. He didn’t speak English well when he entered Kindergarten and although he only mentioned the situation in passing a few times, I’d bet that’s when his “tough guy” survival mode first reared its necessary head. Extremely intelligent and well-read, despite the fact that neither of his parents ever learned to speak English all that well, my dad learned quickly and was an excellent student. In fact, he was kind of a nerd, haha! But he was a big, brawny nerd that hailed from the roughest public housing complex in the area at the time, so I doubt anyone ever called him a nerd or really thought of him that way.  He wasn’t a bully, either. My dad kept to himself – he had 2 jobs before he was in middle school, so he didn’t have the time or the patience to cause trouble. However, anyone who mistook his kindness or silence for weakness and decided to start trouble with him – or in front of him – very soon regretted their mistake. My dad didn’t like bullies and didn’t tolerate them. Not just towards himself, but in general. It was his nature to protect those who couldn’t (or just didn’t know how to) protect themselves. It was never an official “lesson” while we were growing up, but he showed us that we’re given strengths to help others, not hurt them.  Always made sense to me.003

My mom is on the other end of the spectrum, a white girl from an affluent neighborhood on the island, she wasn’t put in the hot seat like my dad, but her huge heart and “mother hen” nature meant she was always against hurting others intentionally. She never had the physical prowess or “hard knock life” street credit that my dad did, but she packs a mean combo verbally and has always raised her voice against injustice found in practices, procedures and people.

The combination of my parents’ beliefs and ways and my personal experience are the foundation, but as the years have gone by, I’ve discovered that it’s not just the well-placed DNA chromosomes that make it impossible for me to sit by when seeing someone get picked on and hurt by bullies; it’s part of my being, my soul. In hindsight, I admit that some of my protective instincts manifested themselves quite haphazardly, like jumping in front of large persons in the midst of their bullying, but I’d do it again right now, no doubt. I know I was lucky not to have been hurt by those bullies and I credit my family and ethnic background for adding a dimension of fearlessness to my efforts, which many might call foolhardy. You can call it whatever you want, but I’ll never regret any instance where I did what I knew was right – and I’ll continue to do so for as long as I’m breathing.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.                        – Edmund Burke



3 thoughts on “Forge Meaning; Build Identity

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