Become What You Want To Be

For some time I was on the Council of my local University, the University of Central Queensland. CQU’s motto is Be what you want to be!

I was somewhat bemused by this well-meaning but misguided maxim. No doubt it was supposed to promote learning and the notion that University study provided a path to our most sought after ambitions. And this is true to an extent. But as I pointed out to my colleagues, it was no help if I wanted to be an Olympic basketballer – I was probably at least 30cm shorter than I would need to be. Nor would it help if I wished to be an airline pilot because I am colour blind and no amount of tuition would remedy that.

There are limits to what each individual can aspire to. You can’t plant mustard seeds and expect to grow an oak tree. Each of us has intellectual, physical and personality traits that will serve to constrain what we might reasonably aspire to.

The good Dr Phil taught me the value of not only knowing myself but accepting myself. When I know who I truly am, while it might put some necessary constraints on my ambitions, it provides the platform for realistic personal development and life satisfaction.

Now that was my rather naïve thoughts about human development and what I might aspire to.

When I considered my genetic endowment for example, I never thought that there was any choice but to own up to the rather mongrel heritage of my Scottish, Irish and Scandinavian progenitors. But now it seems that at least some of us our able to choose our racial origins.

As The Australian recently reported:

University of Sydney anthropologist Gaynor Macdonald, who is not indigenous but who has worked alongside the Wiradjuri people of of central NSW for more than forty years, estimates 5 percent of people who identify as indigenous in Australia are actually white people “self-identifying” as indigenous.

This raises some interesting questions. If being indigenous is such a disadvantage as the activists would have us believe, why would someone voluntarily take on the mantle of indigeneity? Could it be that identifying as indigenous facilitates the notion of victimhood? And of course if you are a victim you don’t have to take responsibility for your own welfare.

But astounding as it is that people believe they can change their race, how much more extraordinary is it that some believe they can change their gender! Now, just like those who seek to change their race, this is a rather insignificant part of the population but these aberrant ideas are having a disproportionate effect on our civilisation and its culture, laws and behavioural norms.

There are a number of erroneous assumptions made by the champions of this dysfunctional movement.

The first is questioning that gender is not biologically determined. Many of the politically correct maintain that children are socialised into their gender roles. They deny what anyone with a modicum of knowledge about human neurology will attest – that is there are significant differences between male and female brains. We know girls are more risk averse than boys. Males die disproportionately in motor vehicle accidents involving speed. Males murder more frequently than females. They also commit suicide more frequently. And there are many more behavioural traits that are influenced by our genetic makeup and particularly our gender.

Psychologist Jordan Peterson relates:

Boys’ interests tilt more towards things; girls’ interests tilt towards people. Strikingly these differences, strongly influenced by biological factors, are most pronounced in Scandinavian societies where gender equality has been pushed hardest; this is the opposite of what would be expected by those who insist, ever more loudly, that gender is a social construct. It isn’t. This isn’t a debate. The data are in.

Now the next erroneous assumption is almost a corollary of the first, and that is that physically modifying the body can somehow enhance a sense of mental well-being. The transgender movement has encouraged people to imagine that somehow many people are born in the wrong body. (Don’t think too much about this absurd proposition – it will blow your brain!) Under this dubious assumption those so afflicted are encouraged to believe that the surgical modification of genitalia, mastectomies for young girls and the ingestion of hormones designed to facilitate the development of the characteristics of the sex opposite to that biologically determined will somehow lead to a greater sense of well-being.

Sure, if I had a malignant tumour its removal might provide some relief. Or if my wisdom teeth were impacting my physical well-being their removal would be beneficial. But surely the modification of genitalia and the removal of breasts are not interventions likely to improve anyone’s state of mind. Moreover because these steps are often set in place before the young person has the capacity to make such decisions rationally they are more than likely to lead to misery later on.

We know personal well-being is determined more by our state of mind than any other factor. Many people believe that coming into wealth will somehow improve their sense of well-being. And yet study after study confirms that those who win the lottery, after the initial euphoria wears off, (typically about twelve months), find themselves no happier than they were before.

So was I wrong to disparage the notion that we could become what we want to be? Well I don’t think so.

I could manufacture a story about my ancestry and claim I had an indigenous forebear. But I don’t see how that would enable me to claim I am indigenous. Not that I don’t want to be indigenous, it is just of little concern to me. Who cares? I could just as easily claim to be an ancestor of a Spanish nobleman or an American Indian chief. I just don’t see how any of this really matters. My ancestry was predetermined and beyond my control just like everyone else. It astounds me, for example, when someone declares they are a proud Aranda man (or woman) (or a member of any of the multitudinous indigenous tribes). They seem somehow to want to take credit for their ancestry over which they had no control whatsoever.

I am happy to live with my chequered ancestry. It is what I have. It can’t be changed. And I have no difficulty accommodating it.

But what about being a left-handed, colour blind, short-sighted, ageing male? Well that’s the hand you get dealt with. I have led a largely satisfying life.  And one of the most important life messages I have learnt is that who I am on many counts (by gender, race, nationality etc) is not as important as how I deal psychologically with who I am.

I am reminded of an apocryphal story told about the fabulous Jewish violinist, Itzhak Perlman The violinist was born in 1945 in Tel Aviv. Perlman contracted polio at the age of four and has walked using leg braces and crutches since then and plays the violin while seated.

It is said that at one particular performance an aide brought Perlman’s stool onto the podium, The maestro hobbled out on his crutches and sat on the stool. The aide then returned with Perlman’s violin. Perlman then proceeded to tune his instrument with the orchestra. But then disaster struck as he was tuning his violin he broke a string. The aide rushed on to the stage suggesting that Perlman should replace his violin. But Perlman shooed the aide away. He sat for a while contemplating the piece he had to play. After a time he nodded to the conductor to begin. During that little respite he had worked out how he could play the piece without needing to utilise the broken string.

When the piece was finished the audience rose in thunderous applause fully appreciating this magnificent display of musicianship. When the applause finally waned away they brought a microphone to the maestro and he merely said, “Sometimes we need to just make do with what we’ve got.”

What a telling remark from someone incapacitated by polio!

In the face of that humility I feel compelled to do the same. I am content to be who I am. And I know if I would resort to some of the subterfuges others have tried to change their race, change their gender or whatever I would merely feel a fraud!

5 Replies to “Become What You Want To Be”

  1. Thank you Ted, for that beautifully constructed essay. It is comforting to see a mainstream push-back is now mounting on the silliness and unfairness of race-changing, which seems to be prevalent in academia.

  2. Indeed, at the end of the day we all have to make do with what we got….. And we do OK, sometimes the less we got the more we achieve….
    Success has ruined many a man….

  3. I do not think there is any doubt that, if identifying as ‘indigenous,’ i.e. claiming Aboriginal ancestry, did not have a multitude of benefits including power, profits, prestige, leg’s up in any industry etc., that fewer would bother to do so.

    In fact, in no other country in the world can people claim ‘native status’ with so little ancestry. We have now around 700,000 who register or claim Aboriginal ancestry and most of those are minimally Aboriginal in ancestry and mostly Anglo-European. The range is from 100%, very few of those, to less than 1%, lots of those and a reality that millions of Australians must have a smidge of Aboriginal ancestry somewhere, given more than two centuries of inter’marriage.’

    But the business of being Aboriginal has reached ridiculous proportions when Ash Barty, to be applauded for her sporting achievements, claims to be indigenous, i.e. Aboriginal, because she has a part-Aboriginal great-grandmother, one of eight, on her father’s side. Another story claimed she has a part-Aboriginal great-great grandfather, one of sixteen, but whatever the truth, it isn’t much and makes her so minimally Aboriginal it is a joke to claim to be so.

    What is ignored in this situation is that to ‘argue’ those with Aboriginal ancestry, no matter how small, are deserving or in need of extra help, is to argue that any Aboriginal ancestry creates dysfunction, i.e. inferiority, and that any achievement by those ‘suffering’ in this way is truly remarkable and should be supported, applauded and funded.

  4. Thank you all for your encouraging remarks.

    Ros, when we talk about indigenous representation the elephant in the room is who to include as indigenous. For example some are now calling for the so-called “voice” to parliament to be elected by indigenous people. This begs the question of who would be entitled to vote. Now the indigenous people in my network tell me that this question is being deliberately avoided because it won’t be resolved without a whole lot of antagonism And we know that getting any sort of consensus from indigenous groups on such questions is well nigh impossible.

    I am confident that for many reasons (including this one) that there is little likelihood that our constitution would ever be changed to accommodate the creation of an indigenous “voice” to parliament.

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