Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall… Who am I?

Look into the mirror. Take a good hard look at yourself. Who are you? How many of us can actually find one specific answer to this question? “Well”, you’d say, “I am <insert personal name here>, of course!”. But what does that mean? That is merely an identification word your parents have decided to give you. What makes you be you? “I am a teacher/doctor/lawyer/apple salesman/freelancer”, you might say. Or perhaps “I am a mother/daughter”, “I am thoughtful/impulsive/aggressive/peace loving”, “I am the best of the best!” It is amazing how many answers people can give to this question but without truly touching the point, if indeed there is a point to touch.

The nature of being is extremely malleable, and all those above are mere lively roles that cover an essence that should be common to them all. To shed more light on this, the lawyer goes to work and puts on her lawyer role and simply does the job brilliantly! Then she goes home to her husband and kids, lets aside the vicious predator lawyer role and switches to the wife and mother. We call this adequately adapting to the multitude of situations and circumstances life puts us through. But what is common to all these? What defines us, what binds all these roles together so that we remain one person, instead of a multitude of unrelated dissociations?

When we place a label on somebody (and I know we’ve been through this topic before, from an extremely basic point of view), do we label the person or the way the person reacts to the circumstance he or she is in? We talk so much about people, about the actions of individuals, but it is not so often that we put all these stories into context. We may find that labeling a person in circumstance A will prove itself completely useless once we find ourselves in circumstance B. There are two ways this error may unfold:

               1. Initial negative label contrasting following positive one/s.

For example, you have an acquaintance who, through his or her actions, has proven him/herself to be irresponsible, unpredictable and even chaotic with how they carry on with their lives. Yet in spite of this negative(ish) label, it comes to you as an unexpected surprise when this person helps you out in a moment of extreme need, without asking for anything in return, thus showing you a certain side that you have not seen in them before. Do you re-label?

2.           2. Initial positive label contrasting with newly found negative one/s.

A short example in this case: first discovering a person through their talent (and we all know how the first impression always leaves a mark), being impressed by it, appreciating it to such an extent that we convincingly label the person as pure genius! Later on, in social circumstances, you realize that the same person shows no sign of moral value towards you or others, something that heavily contradicts anything that would be labeled as “Pure Genius”. So now, you either do some re-labeling, or follow a sad path towards suffering because the person did not meet the expectation of the initial label you stuck to his/her forehead.
We must keep in mind that each label we create generates a list of expectations. If these expectations are being met, they reinforce the initial label. If not, they create confusion and can even lead to personal frustration. One must either reconsider the label or add a new one. But how does that work? How can conflicting labels coexist stuck on the same person? They can, if properly put into context. To work on the examples above:

1.       Number one can be a complete mess in his or her ‘love life’ or superficial social decisions, but a real friend when specifically needed.

2.       Number two might be pure genius in his/her field of artistic creation, but immoral and/or unreliable in other social situations.

I took the liberty of underlining the exact circumstances to which the labels of the two examples apply. Thus, even though conflicting, they can coexist in a person, because each labels one role and each role is active in a specific circumstance. But wouldn’t this be like labeling different people within one person?” you might ask. Very much so, this is the precise reason why we must focus our attention on discovering what makes all these roles activate within a certain one individual. If we manage to answer that about ourselves, we will manage, or at least be a lot closer, to knowing who we really are.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


There is a custom in the Balkan area according to which every beginning of spring we wear a lace made out of entwining white and red thread. Some wear it on their wrists, like I noticed with my Bulgarian friends and some wear it together with a small decorative object (used to be a small coin or even a button, now the sky is the limit in terms of variety) on their coat’s lapel, as we do in Romania. Some wear it just for a few days and others until the weather gets better. In some areas people wear them until they see the first stork. In others, until they see a blossomed tree and when they take it off, they tie it around a branch.
Even if it became a commercial holiday, in which people just buy and gift these tiny decorative objects, Martisor is already a cultural reflex for Romanians. People make these gifts in order to show appreciation, but it’s such a wide spread practice that women who don’t receive any will wonder why. But as a ritual that marks the beginning of spring, Martisor is also associated with practices of cleansing, of welcoming the new season with a clean house and holiday clothing. In most areas men give Martisor to women and children to the elderly. But there are regions, such as the Eastern part of the country where girls make gifts to boys and they receive gifts on Women’s Day, on the 8th of March.
Initially, the lace was white and black because black was not associated to death and suffering. In later customs, black had been replaced by red, as a symbol of youth, of beauty and vitality. Red is also associated to spring as a new beginning, so the Martisor is a symbol of the succession of the two seasons – one coming and the other one going. Back in the days, mothers used to make Martisor for their children. Later, women and young girls started wearing them as well, as ethnographers explain. Some women wore it as a necklace and men would decorate their hats with them. People even tied them to their doors and roofs so that the house is protected from evil spirits.
There are various superstitions about Martisor. Some say that wearing it protects children from disease and young girls are protected from the blinding rays of the spring sun. The two threads had to be entwined because this action kept the bad luck away. Another superstition is about the “old ladies”. Between the 1st and 9th of March people can pick a day and depending on the weather that day, you can predict how your whole year will be.
This superstition comes from a story that has some historical roots. It says that Dochia, the sister of Decebal (the king of the united tribes that lived on the Romanian territory before the Roman invasion) was courted by a Roman soldier and she didn’t want to marry him. When her brother committed suicide (rather than see his country in the hands of the enemy) she ran away to the mountains. It was the beginning of spring and the weather was very unstable. She tried to disguise herself as a shepherdess and she had lots of sheep skin coats on to keep her warm. But as she was moving upwards on the mountain with her sheep, the weather kept changing and she would take the coats off one by one. At some point, when she was left with barely any clothes on, it suddenly got very cold and she froze. She remained knows as “the old lady Dochia”, although the legend says she was young and beautiful. The first days of spring are named after this legend, to emphasize the instability of the weather during that week.
I was planning for a while now to write a little post about these Eastern European customs, especially because I know we have a few foreign readers and maybe they would enjoy an insight into our cultural practices. As for my fellow citizens, please feel free to complete or correct my accounts. And may all of you have a happy fulfilling spring!