Inside every person is an ocean of stories. In a visual world, we often only see what lies on the surface, forgetting the intricate, detailed and deep layers that every individual has. A story filled with endless chapters. The laughter, joy, pain, hurt and tears. When we read, we build an understanding of the characters, the plot and the story becomes vivid within our imagination. Reading builds empathy. Growing up in a multicultural society, there are people from various backgrounds and cultures.
There are many silent stories waiting to be heard. Remember how children’s book’s would make us laugh, cry, wide eyed in curiosity, and intrigue us to know more. When we take interest in others, we express care and compassion and we show the desire to understand. Stereotypes, assumptions and judging someone from a brief moment can be incredibly damaging, as well as the number of stereotypes that have been deeply ingrained in the media and society.
As aspect that has been on my mind more particularly since last year is the concept of casual racism. We have to acknowledge that racism and discrimination exists in New Zealand. The earliest memories of racism that I can recollect start from primary school, observing my parents interactions with other people when they first arrived in New Zealand and the numerous stereotypes and ignorant comments.
The daily microaggressions, experiencing different treatment in certain situations and the language that may occur in conversations are common experiences. The comments that someone should go back to their country, the judgment of one’s English fluency, the lack of respect for cultural differences, the comments on food or one’s appearances, the stereotyping and backhanded comments can often be experiences that are had in silence or not witnessed by other people.
Our stories are a part of us. It takes courage to share our stories. However, it can be incredibly freeing and it can be a source of greater connection and understanding of ourselves and others. Our stories are like a strong string that attaches us to one another forming a bond. They open the room for conversations on topics that may not be commonly spoken about. Sharing our stories can also be a process of healing, reflection and growth. They can broaden our minds and create change. The more we share our stories, the more we realise we are all connected.
Your voice matters. Taking the time to listen and understand someone’s story is incredibly valuable. It makes us realise that every person has been through their own hurts, pain, success, failure, struggles and achievements. If you ever have the chance, take time to listen to individual stories of different backgrounds. We can take action when we recognize the signs of discrimination taking place. When we hear from different voices it enables our world view to widen.
If you grew up before social media escalated and became increasingly popular, you’ll remember how interactions were far different to how they are now. We used the telephone at home to talk to friends, we mailed letters to our families overseas and we would go next door to play with the neighbours kids. Communication now has a sense of urgency, but the value in a conversation is the most important thing, no matter how convenient it is to reach someone. Social media has enabled us to connect with anyone online but there is a rarity in truly establishing an authentic conversation. Below are several observations of how social media has impacted our lives.
sharing / Sharing is a natural part of our daily conversations and interactions with friends and family. However, it’s increasingly common to share with strangers about intimate details of our lives. It’s good to share what you like, but it’s important to have moderation, because most of the simple memories are the ones we keep to ourselves.
privacy / There is less mystery now compared to when we wouldn’t know what someone is doing or where they are. It’s common to share more of our lives to the public. Every action we take online is not truly private from everything we view to what we read.
daydreaming / The art of people watching has been replaced with spending time on our phones. The days of sitting at the bus stop watching people walk by or staring out a window looking at the cars seemed to give us a sense of feeling present. Daydreaming gives us a whole universe into our imagination that a phone can’t replicate.
relationships / My close relationships with friends and family are often those that I see in person, or even those that I might not talk to for a while, but when you reconnect in person it feels just the same. It’s easy to be online friends with many people, but in-person contact definitely solidifies a deeper friendship.
follows / Before social media was what it is now, we tend to catch up, surround ourselves and make friends with people we feel good around. The concept of following means that many people are following the lives of people they don’t really know, rather than focusing on living their own lives.
daily routine / social media is a normal, regular part of many people’s everyday routine. I remember before social media, I spent a lot more time reading the newspaper while I was having breakfast, playing with puzzles, going to the library for an afternoon and being creative with my hands.
online personality / When I think of social media apps like Instagram, there can definitely be a narrow snapshot of what the person is like. We only get a tiny glimpse from a shot snapped in a second. We can choose what we want to show and we can show ourselves a certain way.
strangers / Do you remember walking down the neighbourhood streets and greeting people or talking to random people in the store? There was more of a mystery of not knowing what goes on in other’s lives but there was also a genuine kindness and connection that we would have.
news / We have more choices than ever before and we are able to choose which platforms we receive our news from. There is more fake news online and we are consuming news that has been specifically targeted towards us from what we’re already consuming, rather than challenging us with new ideas.
childhood / One of the most heart-breaking things is seeing how young children are already using phones and tablets. I would argue that this is not healthy for a child and even for adults using their phone when the child needs their attention. Play is a powerful part of childhood, as well as interacting with people or exploring the world around us.
boredom / How we spend our free time has changed. One of the most freeing things was when I stopped using Facebook. I think that social media can often be a way of filling our moments of boredom, yet those are the very moments that can be filled with something that can support our growth. Learning a new language, going out for a long walk or talking to a loved one.
special memories / When we were younger, there would be endless photo albums of memories that were captured. The moments were precious, natural and candid. They were just snapshots of the life we were living in, rather than photos of looking a certain way. Those special memories we hold dearly.
mental health / We live in a generation where many people have a smartphone addiction. The constant use of our phones are also a form of escapism of our real-life experiences. It creates avoidance in confronting issues and it has increased the rates of anxiety and depression. Minimizing our technology use is beneficial for having a balanced lifestyle.
in person / The best form of communication is always in person, even though it’s great that we can connect with people online, especially if we’re unable to see them often. However, I find that when we use our phones in the presence of others we lose a moment to connect with them. It’s the ability to be in the present that is important.
phone addiction / We pick up our phones numerous times a day to check our messages, watch a video, write an email or read an article. Before social media, our phone usage was far less. We would predominantly use it for texting and calling. We are constantly distracted by our phones.
surveillance capitalism / After watching The Social Dilemma, it makes one question how every part of our online activity is being followed and tracked. We are living in isolation bubbles from algorithms that expose us to repeated content that we are predicted to engage with.
sense of mystery / There would be an air of mystery. Now when you meet someone you can look at their social media profile and pretty much know most things about them. Without social media sites, there would be more mystery and you would have to form your own opinion of them from your experiences.
over consumption / Over consumption is encouraged through the never-ending flow of information available online. It can be helpful to follow a small amount of accounts. I feel that then gives an added value, rather than joining the noise and mindlessly passing through many posts. It also saves time to minimize the amount of online content you consume.
ability tofocus / How present are we in our day-to-day lives? We live in an attention economy where corporations earn profit from our attention and how long they can distract us. Seeing the world around us means consciously having no screen time and having time to be in our own thoughts. The moments where we get lost in reading a book or playing an instrument.
communication / The way we communicate has changed astronomically. We don’t talk on the phone as often, and most communication is done through messaging and emailing. We tend to use the self-check out aisles and we avoid more in-person communication. The true connection we have in the world can only be felt through in-person interactions.
the art of slow / I think of how our parents would go to the library to do all their research or how our grandparents would write letters to one another. There was no shopping online or instant messaging, and reading and research were all done offline. The ability to take a step back and take your time rather than rushing through life brings us back to the present.
Reflecting on life before social media causes us to confront the behaviours that have changed over time. Research says that social media is re-writing our brains and our behaviours are heavily influenced by technology. Social media has permeated many facets of our lives; breaking the boundaries of what is public and private. By consciously taking control and action to maintain balance in our life, we reclaim the time we may spend online, and we have the freedom of not being constraint to our devices.
“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.” ― E.O. Wilson
Is freedom giving up the need to be understood by everyone? The exhausting part of our daily lives erupt when we feel the need for most people to understand. Every person is deeply complex. The greatest blessing can lie in feeling understood by those who truly care. I was reading the article Introverts are excluded unfairly in an extraverts’ worldhere, which was incredibly thought provoking and eye opening, as I spent many years thinking that there was something innately wrong with me.
Around seven years ago I discovered the term introvert and felt a greater understanding. We live in a society that praises extroverts. In the article it states that “The main cultural problem is that introverts are widely seen as not adapted to the environment, instead of it being acknowledged that the environment is designed to profit extraverts. Society’s praise and acceptance of extraversion as the norm has led many introverts, along with many ambiverts, to suppress different aspects of their personality, or to see them as flaws. This state of affairs is bad not only for introverts, but for society as a whole.”
Susan Caine cites studies which suggest that the majority of teachers think the ideal student is an extrovert, and more extroverts are groomed for leadership positions in the workplace. However, the level of introversion or extroversion does not equate to one’s level of competency. We need to live in a world that supports both introverts and extroverts in all environments. We need to create environments that allow both to shine through their positive traits.
Negative connotations tend to be associated with introversion and introverts can often be stereotyped as shy, socially anxious, awkward and quiet. However, shyness is not the same as introversion and being an introvert means that you need to spend time alone in order to recharge your batteries. The two important areas of our societies are schools and businesses. These are areas that individuals spend a significant amount of their lives in. These are designed largely for extroverts and the extrovert’s need for stimulation.
A person should not be measured by how well they can engage in small talk but in the ideas, values, character, opinions and empathy they express. The greatest freedom is being yourself. As children we are taught to play with other children, and isolating oneself is seen as an issue that needs to be resolved. In some cases there may be clear signs that the behaviour may be concerning, however it’s common a child may feel more stimulated through activities such as reading a book.
The implication that it’s a fault is created by societal expectations and norms. Social exclusion through not conforming to societal expectation can also increase feelings of isolation and rejection. The ending of the article beautifully says that “More importantly, we must remember that introversion is not something to be fixed – but a blessed source of human diversity that comes with many strengths. The way to advance our personal and collective growth is not by eliminating this diversity, but by embracing it.” Every person has the ability to create change and to contribute towards society.
The complexities of the human condition are deeply reflected in the layers that we each have. The antidote to this are the authentic acts of vulnerability and empathy. The fear of judgment causes us to hide our childlike self under a hard shell, rather than allowing our true self to flourish. It takes energy to not be ourselves. The masks we wear can become definitions that we create for ourselves and the ways that we present ourselves to the world. Reflecting on my own masks, I thought about how the words we are told as a child are powerful and they can become deeply ingrained into us as facts throughout our whole lives. The powerful truth is recognizing that only you know who you are and only you are in control of changing who you are. No one can really define you, unless you let them.
Growing up, I was often told that I was shy, quiet and reserved. This was repeatedly said to me throughout my life to the degree that I thought that there was something wrong with me. As an Asian New Zealander, there have been many moments throughout my life where I felt an unexplainable invisibility. The stereotype of the ‘Quiet Asian Woman’ has followed me all my life, deeply affecting the way I previously saw myself. My experiences, though, have really helped me to understand the harm of minimising people through categorizing them. The undoing of a lifelong feeling of not fitting in a mould came through the development of self assurance within oneself despite external voices. You are the author of your novel and the beauty and freedom of this is that you can create whatever you desire.
Masks are an internalisation from how other people perceive us. It can make us succumb to the perception of the world to protect ourselves. The fear of vulnerability can hide our true self as we wear a false mask as a protection to feel safe from the world. The desire for acceptance leads to wearing a mask that society puts on us for fear that being your true self is not the way the world wants to see you. Our identities are constructed on how others perceive us, but the lack of vulnerability constrains the diversity of human nature and potential. Vulnerability openly invites us to talk about how we feel without judgment, builds trust and a sense of security and connection, the freedom to be ourselves and the deliberate act of being kind.
When we struggle with our mental health, we often cling to our masks even tighter. For example, when you have experienced depression, you may have fought to bear a smile on your face. We experience an inner battle when we hide our depression and anxiety; holding tightly on our masks can provide temporary relief, but never allow us to fully heal. The surface may not reflect the reality. The dangers of this comes in the deterioration of authentic connections when we create an appearance of perfection to the world that doesn’t exist. Perfection is a false façade to create an illusion of happiness to the world but it never achieves true happiness. True happiness is the freedom we feel when we are living in the world as the person that we were born to be.
Our true selves tend to shine when we let go of external pressures or validations. True understanding comes from taking the time to listen and see through different lenses. When we judge ourselves or other people, it comes from a deep rooted insecurity within ourselves and a desire to feel a false sense of superiority. Wearing masks are a learned practice that we have picked up as a survival tactic as a way of hiding what we are feeling. Masks are worn as a socially expected concept such as when we may have to keep a polite demeanour even if a situation is difficult. When we really unpeel everything, everyone wants to be understood and loved.
There is a beautiful photography series by Justin Rosenberg that you can view here that brings to light the reality of how we tend to perceive things through what we see rather than for what they are.
The psychology of sales, discounts and promotions tend to convince the need to buy in order to feel a sense of satisfaction through saving. This is a powerful marketing tactic as it encourages consumers to buy and therefore increases production demands. The use of special offers and a strong favourable brand image deliver a lifestyle and a promise of happiness that is attainable through purchasing the product. The cycle boosts the long-term profitability and sales for the company, but it also comes at the price of feeding on our insecurities and telling us that we need materials in our lives to fill up the spaces to attain a certain status, appearance or lifestyle. However, the increase in mass production encourages mass consumption. The increasing consumption cycle is damaging to our environment, well being and mind set.
In our rapidly changing world, we are more impatient due to instant gratification and being bombarded with more choice and opportunities. The gamification of smart phones have also caused a change in socialising, communicating and interactions. The fast paced society has caused an increase in stress, depression and anxiety. It reminds us to take a moment to practice mindful consumption in buying, reading, exercising, cooking, socialising, eating and so forth. We can take time to have a more leisurely approach to life rather than conform to the rush of a busy life. Over-consumption presents an ecological threat to individual, social and global well-being. The ideology that should be shared is that buying less things that are better quality can help us lead a more fulfilled, less wasteful life.
In The stuff of life, Immig writes “What if you piled up all the stuff you’ve ever owned and consumed in your lifetime? Would it make a tall tower reaching into the sky like a high-rise building, or is it more of a discreet mound?” The article is fascinating and creates visualisations of the waste that we have contributed to in a lifetime. It seems as if we can obtain everything we could possibly imagine if we have the financial means to, yet large numbers of people remain deeply unhappy. The chase for personal status and material wealth is built from consumer culture which encourages extrinsic goals that bring an illusion of temporary happiness. We are increasingly obsessed with superficial ideals such as material possessions, wealth, fame and status which is a result of the declining care, empathy and concern for others and for our environment.
The garments we hold tend to lack meaning due to the idea that they’re instantly replaceable or out of trend through the fast-pace cycle of the fashion industry. Adopting the models of slow consumption creates more respect and value for what we have, rather than affording cheap clothing that creates a throwaway culture and encourages the cycle of fashion produced under exploitive work conditions and are environmentally unsustainable. A focus on environmental ethics would help bring the focus on a collective level on the impact and change that can be made for global well-being. If we strive to be conscious consumers, we make the first step in deliberately trying to minimise permanent footprints on the environment. We consider the difference between needs and desires and to purchase and consume slowly and accordingly.
Connection is an important part of relationships, and having a sense of community can affect our well being. True connections are incredibly valuable. It’s been a few months since I stopped using Facebook and Instagram, and the relationships that are the closest are the ones where you are engaged and in contact regardless of your online presence. They are the ones you will message or call on the phone every day. I really value close and long-term friendships, and I found that often on social media we are viewing and sharing to people we don’t have a close connection with. The aspects of privacy, mental health, phone use and what value it has on my personal life were just some of the areas that made me remove several social media apps.
The people who care about you will make the effort to be in your life.The people that really matter will make the effort to call you and personally invite you to events or to catch up. It’s not the frequency of contact or quantity of friendships, but the time spent. A natural part of life is that people come and go in our lives. Those who are meant to be in our lives will be there.
Your productivity levels will increase. The ability to sustain focus for longer periods of time will become a habit. Social Media can be distracting and take away our attention. Phones have caused us to have shorter attention spans. I remember as a student how distracting social media can be, and how much time can go by if we spend our time on it.
Decrease in anxiety and online noise and distraction. My mental health greatly improved, and so much time will be in your hands for things that add value in your life, rather than scrolling mindlessly. There was something about Facebook and Instagram that really triggered my anxiety. Our phones can be a form of escapism. There is an overwhelming amount of information online.
Spending time doing the things you love. Time spent on your favourite activities, hobbies and time spent with the people you love. In the past few months, I love to spend the early morning going for a jog or reading a chapter of a book, whereas in the past one of the first things was to turn on my phone. Time offline means that I put more conscious time in achieving my goals.
Conformity, validation and acceptance. I think about how I really value the opinions and views of those close to me, regardless of if I agree or disagree with it. However, I find on social media there is a lot of external validation from strangers which can have an impact on ones authenticity. True validation and acceptance is through accepting yourself.
The time spent on my phone is minimised. More or less the phone is mostly used for texting, calling and replying emails. I check my phone far less, whereas when I previously had several social media apps, I’d check it more often because there would be notifications that most of the time weren’t important. Excessive screen time is unhealthy, and takes us away from the present.
The value of privacy, and realising that most people don’t truly care about you. We are essentially the products on social media platforms. It’s hard to define privacy in one definition nowadays. I am quite a private person, and would rather spend time sharing certain things with those close to me. Most people are friendly, but there really are only a handful of people in our personal lives who truly care about us.
Body image and unrealistic expectations. There is a layer of social media that can feel unrealistic. We only catch a glimpse, and even then we can’t really know someone without engaging in conversation and spending time with them. To an extent, social media can shape perceptions of body image.
Being present and focused in my own life. I’m not sure if I’ll be back on Facebook or Instagram, but it feels good to be fully focused on my own life. I do miss the days before social media where there was a sense of mystery in our lives. No one’s life is perfect, even though it can seem that way online. Spending less time on our phones can create space for us to be present in our daily lives.
After watching The Farewell at the cinema last year, it was an emotional film. It also made me reflect the thoughts that came after watching Crazy Rich Asians, and how powerful films, books, photography and art can really tell these stories that make us reflect on our own personal experiences. There have been many interesting stories growing up in New Zealand, and knowing that often I will first be viewed as an Asian woman. I was reading from Old Asian, New Asian, the words: As the ethnic makeup of New Zealand continues to change, the nature of our race relations will continue to impact the very real everyday experiences of those who live here. We are in a position to build on the rich exchanges that have already taken place, but we need to keep talking.
Being born and raised in New Zealand, I grew up feeling never quite fully Kiwi, and yet when I visit Taiwan, I’m never quite fully Taiwanese. I also didn’t grow up in the city, and lived on a farm which meant that I was often one of the only Asians in most settings. New Zealand is very isolated from the rest of the world. However, I do find that the understanding of Asian culture and knowledge is limited in many ways despite the population of Asians being significant in New Zealand. I hope this will change. In understanding, truly understanding, we create empathy, we have an open mind and we can learn from one another.
There are aspects of values from Asian and Western culture that I can and cannot relate to. In being open, we have to have respect, compassion and be there to listen to stories. I think in sharing experiences, it can allow one another to have a sense of connection and understanding. I can appreciate conversations where you do not feel assumptions, judgments, prejudice, stereotypes and false beliefs, but rather a genuine interest in wanting to understand more about Asian culture. Some things I’d like to mention, is that it’s okay to reach out for help in terms of seeing a counselor, doctor or psychologist for your mental health. There is a stigma in mental health in general, but also in Asian culture it tends to be something that can be kept quiet.
From my personal experience, it helps to see someone who can have the cultural understanding. It’s also important to connect and have conversations with people from all walks of life, because this creates a sense of open mindedness and understanding. I find language is also really important in connecting with people. That’s why it’s so important to treasure and speak your mother tongue. The beauty of living in New Zealand, especially in cities such as Auckland and Wellington, is that there is a diverse mixture of cultures. Living between two cultures is a blessing, as I am grateful for growing up in a household filled with Asian food, language, customs and traditions while growing up being surrounded by nature, lakes, mountains and never ending skies.