One of the thing that surprises me is that even today, in a world where we have access to more options than in the past, people still think in terms of opposites: either you’re one or the other. We still cling to the idea of exclusivity, that there’s only one stance you can take (or that you can only be good at one thing).
I attribute this theory of exclusivity to two things. The first is that it provides a simple answer. Things are either black or white, good or bad, positive or negative, right or wrong. Let’s face it, people love simple concepts: it’s easy to understand and provides us with quick solutions. I’m not saying that we should always look for complexity in our lives, but while the statement “the simplest solutions are often the best” is true, not all problems can be solved by simple solutions. If a simple solution exists, then well and good. If not, forcing a simple solution to a complicated problem might not always produce optimum results. And I think we all know that life, if anything, is far from simple.
The second reason I think exclusivity is popular is due to the fact that it’s easy and appeals to our pessimistic view of ourselves. I mean life is already difficult as it is. We want to cling to something simple. And when we “specialize” or choose one particular vocation, it seems like we finally have an answer to all our problems. And no matter how optimistic a person you are, people will always have doubts about themselves. Sticking to one particular thing seems more believable to us compared to being good in several things, especially coming from ourselves. My undergraduate degree was in Creative Writing and my class needed money to fund our projects. Of course that meant starting up a business but many of my classmates were hesitant or lacked the will to do so. Why? Their excuse was that they were “creative” and that they were “artists”, hence they wouldn’t do well in business. That’s not necessarily true. I mean a lot of creative and artistic people are engaged in business (and are successful in it), and people with good business sense explore their creative and artistic side as well. I think we cling to the idea of exclusivity because it provides us with a simple answer to life, that as long as we stick to what we’re good at, we can ignore the rest and enjoy success.
For me, what’s sad is the fact that the latter can be prevented. I mean we cling to exclusivity because we think it is true, we think that we’re only capable of so much. I think the reason why we’re more susceptible to learning at a younger age is because we don’t think we have limits yet. As children, we think that we can do anything, that nothing is impossible. It’s adults that tell us you can’t do this or can’t do that. Sometimes, the advice of adults remain true. Sometimes, they’re refuted. I mean in the past, people told us that men wouldn’t be able to fly, that we would never walk on the moon, that it would be impossible to communicate with people around the world in an instant. Yet one has only to look around to notice that things that were once deemed impossible is now a reality. I’m sure some of you have heard that statement that you can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to learn. I think the disease of exclusivity is linked to that. I mean some of my writer friends think that they can’t do well in Math or Science because they’re good in English. And they tell this to me even before the lesson starts. For me, they’re already providing a hurdle to their learning by their sheer disbelief in their own abilities.
My parents often fight. When I was a child, they’d compete for my affection and whenever one got into a conflict with the other, they ask us children who we sided with. Of course they also practiced the exclusivity rule, which is you’re either with one or the other. I often try to look at it from both sides, and when I criticized one, they immediately exclaimed that I was on the side of the other. Which wasn’t true, since I was neither or both on their sides, depending on how you see it, since I criticized and praised both of them. And strangely enough, this is a prevalent way of viewing things. I mean lately, we have a series of conflicts locally and some of the Muslims threaten the lives of innocent Filipinos. I think it again boils down to exclusivity. They think that just because some Filipinos aren’t with them that they are against them. And similarly, some people immediately think that just because some Muslims are attacking innocent civilians, that all Muslims are evil. Now that’s just a big misconception that will only give birth to larger conflict. People are complex and you can’t really “box them” or demonize them. Sometimes though, the “boxing in” isn’t done by other people but by us, especially when we think that we’re limited to this set of capabilities and the like.
In my previous line of work, I was supposed to be able to multitask. I was working in a call center and I had to do a lot of things, all the while talking to the person on the other line and keeping them happy. Was it impossible to do so? No, of course not. Was it difficult, yes. But it was also at that time that I discovered that I was capable of a lot of things, some of which might seem initially unrelated. The bottom line is that as human beings, we all have potential to do what we want, no matter how many they are. What limits that potential is usually our lack of confidence in our own abilities, especially when we heed what other people have to say about what we can and cannot do. The fact of the matter is, we can do lots of things, excel at many different aspects. I mean as a human person, we don’t have “just one personality” and in fact show different faces of who we are to different people at different times. The same goes for our attitudes, beliefs, and set of skills.
Now I’m not saying that exclusivity is bad or that it doesn’t apply to everything. Some things in our lives need to be exclusive, such as our faith, or our relationship with our significant other (i.e. monogamy), or even where our ultimate loyalties lie. But while there are things that need to remain exclusive, there’s also a lot of things that need not be so. I think the keyword here is potential, and we all have it. When we actualize our potential though, most of us stick to one thing and think that it’s enough. But my answer to that is why settle for less when we’re capable of more?