Does Crab Think Fish Can Fly
My friend once asked me, half joking: does crab think fish can fly? In response, I asked him back: how do we know birds are not swimming?
I did not have such wisdom two years ago. Two years ago I was having summer school in the US, and I had a terrible culture shock the very first night I arrived here. That night I went to a welcome party. The light was dim, and the music was loud. People were either yelling to their friends or dancing like they were high. My friend told me the party could be an ice-breaker and I could make friends there, but all I felt was awkward. I escaped.
I spent the rest of the night criticizing how insane Americans were and remembering how homey China was. Looking back now, I feel differently. I now see myself back then as the innocent person laughing at the crabs for thinking fish can fly, not realizing the possibility that maybe fish are the ones flying and birds are the ones swimming. I identified Americans as the insane ones because they partied hard; maybe my American friends tagged me as the insane weirdo for not partying. How do we know birds are flying in the first place?
We thought birds are flying because we have seen birds doing the action we identify as “fly”. We identify fish as the animal that “swims” instead of “flies” because we have seen fish swimming but not flying. June Jordan once said in her short story “Report from the Bahamas”, that “I felt how it was not who they were but what they both know…. that was going to make them both free.” In short, we define others (and ourselves) base on our past observations and experiences. I identified myself as a “non-party animal” because my past experience told me I did not like the party scenes. I identified my American friends as “party animals” because I have seen them partying hard. This model of tagging ourselves and others is efficient for a short period of time, however, it also has a great potential to be misleading in the long term. Whenever we come into touch with some body else, our identities will mix, and then evolve into a new one, because according to Levi R. Bryant, we all have pores in ourselves. This identity model is not promising in the long run. In short, “past experience” is an always renewing collection, so when the model is based on it, it naturally becomes unstable and unreliable.
This is not all. Different person can have different identity from different perspective. From our perspective, fish are swimming, because fish are moving up and down in water; birds are flying because they are moving up and down in air. But from the crabs’ perspective, air and water are the same; fish may as well be flying. Different perspective can always lead to different identity. Take my culture shock as the example, part of me rejecting to go to any party is because I identify myself as a “good girl”, and part of being a good girl for me is not going to any parties. However, from an outsider’s perspective, me not going to party does not lead to the conclusion of me having the identity of a “good girl”, but maybe lead to me being an awkward weirdo. The identity I identify myself and the identity somebody else gave me might not be the same identity. In June Jordan’s short story “Report from the Bahamas”, there are many examples of the different identities being made. In one of these examples, Jordan’s student identified Jordan as someone who “has a cause”, while Jordan herself did not identify herself as so. Meanwhile, from Jordan’s perspective, Jordan identified the female student as somebody who had privileges, for the female student was white (Jordan, 43). This difference in understanding each other’s identity resulted in miscommunication between these two person; it created gaps. These gaps are what we call slippage.
So far, we have concluded that this identity model is unstable and unreliable, and sometimes the mistagging can also lead to communication problem like slippage. Despite the many problems it has, people now still largely rely on this identity model in their daily socializations. The prevalence of this identity model could be traced back to prehistorical dates, when the only important thing in socialization was to distinguish friends from enemies; back then, this model was very useful, for it was quick, and provide accurate information for a short period of time. But those days had long gone. Now the most important thing in socializing is to respect each other in a way that is the most comfortable to that person. This identity model of generalizing brief characteristics of people can no longer provide precise information for us to use. It can easily create gaps among people who are using it. People who uses this identity model tend to make assumptions about others. People lose respect. This identity model of tagging or judging other people upon some of their behaviors should not longer be in use; the only tag we should have is ourselves.
My identity is me.