To fully understand Global Perspectives as a subject, we need to understand our own perspectives. This means considering gender, genetics, environment, sexuality – that is, what influences and defines us. This is a chance to identify and explore some significant aspects of ourselves by using the sun-shadow mandala, which shows two ‘sides’ to one’s identity. The sun side symbolises visible characteristics, while the shadow side symbolises more private, abstract characteristics. My mandala is set up unconventionally: there’s a heart in the center, with my shadow symbols inside, and with my sun symbols surrounding it.
I’ve chosen four symbols to represent my sun side: a brick wall, a legal gavel, a cat, and ballet shoes. The brick wall represents my visible, public front. Others describe me as a private person; often, it’s hard to know how I’m feeling. The wall is appropriate, because everyone’s stuck on one side and can only see one perspective. My wall is strong – but weathered (see appendix G) – because it’s withstood bad metaphorical weather (when I was upset). It makes up the background of my mandala because it’s ever-present as the foundation of my actions. I’m not sure what’s had an influence; it doesn’t feel like I have free will in this – it’s just who I am. I can’t trace it to one specific influence. For example, my family has both extroverts and introverts (though I’m like my Dad in that we enjoy solitude).
My second symbol is a cat. Cats are aloof and wary – like me. It takes me time to warm up to people, but when I do, I’m loyal. Cats are also independent in that they don’t really need people, but rather enjoy the company. This symbol shows the more individualistic side of me, and the influences are similar to the ones of the brick wall.
My third symbol is a pair of ballet shoes, although I’m not a dancer. I chose this symbol because ballet is an art which requires commitment and dedication – important traits to me. When I care about something, I’m incredibly committed to it. My family has definitely had an influence here. They’ve taught me that the most important thing is to do your best, and that you should work for others as well as yourself (collectivism and individualism). In this area, I’m conscious of the choices I make, and my free will is actively engaged. I make my own choices.
My final symbol is the legal gavel, which represents my passion for social justice – and the core of my values and beliefs. However, ‘social justice’ is a broad term. Within it, there are different issues which I care about: LGBTQ+, gender and racial equality. I also strongly believe in ‘innocent until proven guilty’ – I think humanity is inherently good. My parents have definitely influenced this – controversial discussions are a regular feature at the dinner table, allowing me to express and consolidate my thoughts. Another influence would be the media. It’s infuriating to read about individuals being victims of discrimination (individualism); although, of course, this is influenced by being a part of a community which explicitly values similar things (UWCSEA). If one was skeptical, it could be seen as peer pressure or conformity – but I see it simply as shared values.
For the shadow side of my mandala, I used three different symbols: (see appendix A, D, E, F for other ideas) an empty bench, a cliff with the words l’appel du vide and a messy scribble over a head.
The empty bench represents my love of solitude (see appendix K). Many people hate being alone – they’re worried it will look bad, or they’re simply afraid of being lonely. However, I’ve come to love the time I can spend on my own. After all, I’m always surrounded by people, and (of course) nobody sees me when I’m alone. A bench stereotypically represents relationships; however, I decided to draw it on it’s own. It’s inside my ‘heart’, because few people know this about me. It’s bound to be influenced by nature and/or nurture – but it’s pretty difficult to know which is more significant.
The next symbol I used was a cliff (see appendix H, I), with the words l’appel du vide. Cliffs have always been special to me – the soft yet intense feeling that rises in your chest when looking into a vast emptiness is intoxicating – and it influences my perspective on the world. The realization that I’m always ‘on the edge’ – and just unaware of it – changed my life. The french call this feeling l’appel du vide – literally the call of the void, which I think perfectly describes the sensation. My perspective here has been shaped by my reading of serious books dealing with transcendent topics.
I chose my final symbol (perhaps my least coherent one) as a person with a messy scribble obscuring her head. For me, this mirrors my own mind – a mess (see appendix B, C). I have so many thoughts, emotions, and ideas going on at once. Even though nobody sees it; it’s still a huge part of me. An influence here has been my family. Our discussions always have many levels and rapidly dart from topic to topic. My siblings and I are very different, and my parents have always encouraged individualistic approaches.
Activities from class helped me see that defining ourselves is incredibly complicated. So, initially, I found describing myself in six symbols and 1000 words frustrating. It wasn’t so much the struggle in drawing (very real for me) as in choosing a few from the many. What aspects of me are most important? Are they really me? They don’t feel like it. Even the categories of sun/shadow or nature/nurture or individualist/collectivist didn’t seem to truly describe the nuanced essence of personal identity. Maybe language just cannot capture our complexity.
Anyway, even if I am unhappy with the mandala as a finished product, I have learnt a lot from the process. Funnily enough, by categorizing myself, I now know how difficult and pointless it is to do so. And because of that, I’ve come to a greater understanding of my own identity.
Alchin, Nicholas, 2017, Personal Communications
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