I am probably the most self-aware I’ve been my whole life. It’s sensational, as if I’m tuned into more aspects of my being. It all started with the series of dialogues I’ve been involved in. From deconstructing masculinity, to discussing topics on identity, to brainstorming where the IFC community is at right now, I’ve spent close to 6-8 hours a week simply discovering more about what it means to be me and how that relates to my community.
I’ll be honest, I walked into these dialogues not expecting anything too personal to happen. I expected knowledge to be gained, and perhaps some form of empathy to be formed, but to see myself change and be affected was a prediction I would not have bet on.
Two of the biggest realizations I’ve made have to do with fundamentally significant parts of my life. The first has to do with National Service. As most people know, I have had very little reservations of my time in the Armed Forces, in fact being proud of my achievements and time in the army. But I’m actually surprised how little coverage has been put into understanding the psychology and systemic entrenchment of normative ‘masculinity’ that national service perpetuates. What happens is that aside from the fact that every Singaporean son can defend his country after 2 years, every Singaporean son also is unfortunately fed with the wrong idea that being a man means fitting into a box that is defined by cultural norms. Perhaps being a soldier requires you to be strong, have a command of the situation etc. , but that isn’t connected to your masculinity.
I was a part of the oppression that created a hegemony of the ‘alpha-male’ over other men. I compared weakness to lower levels of masculinity; I used terms like ‘pussy’ and ‘bitch’ when people had struggles, and even motivated myself on the basis that I had to prove my ‘manliness’. It’s difficult realizing that in so many ways, my narrative isn’t just my own, but in fact shared by so many in the country. We have a population that feeds this dangerous idea that being a man requires a certain type of profile, and this could potentially lead to violence, be it physical or emotional, internally directed or externally directed.
There’s so much more to this system that I’m slowly realizing and I wonder how to decouple the two : masculinity and soldierliness. I’ve seen great soldiers, but their self-respect as a man is questionable. And vice versa, can someone who frankly isn’t a great soldier not be attacked for his masculinity?
I’m still processing this.
Another big aspect of my being that I’ve been questioning is my emotional intelligence. For the longest time, I thought I was emotionally resilient, because I was able to avoid letting my emotions affect my logic. That was how my family raised me, and how society nurtured me. In fact, the idea that there are good emotions and bad emotions was something that was fed to me too. Being sad or crying was not good. Being angry was allowed only if you were in a place of power. Force yourself to smile on the outside even if you’re not on the inside.
But I realized recently that I struggle to label emotions I feel beyond a certain point now, and because of that cannot identify how they affect my behaviors. Once I started introspecting more, I discovered that so much of my actions have been destructive in not just building my own emotional resilience, but even those of my siblings, who in the same way I was thought to, would be encouraged by me to stop feeling sad or angry.
I even remember asking myself many times – ‘Why am I not allowed to be angry?’ , or ‘Why is this emotion not allowed to me?’
Inside Out as a movie has great take away points, but I’m only starting to realize the gravitas of liberating one’s self from the idea that there are ‘bad emotions’ and ‘good emotions’. Sure, some have negative impacts on you, but to disallow yourself from feeling them or acknowledging them prevents you from even understanding what’s happening to you and how you can target your life to resolve conflict.
Personal Development is a never-ending process. There’s always more for someone to gain by understanding himself, his community and society. I’m glad I put myself out there and have been able to retroactively see how I need to change my lens on the world. I can only wish more would have the benefit of these sessions.
I’ll keep working on it.