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Identity or Belonging?

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Hamid Ismailov Hamid Ismailov | 14:53 UK time, Thursday, 19 January 2012

As the World Service Writer in Residence I run series of talks with other writers.

This week my guest was Elif Shafak - an acclaimed Turkish writer, the best-selling author of books like Flea Palace, Bastard of Istanbul, Forty Rules of Love' and many others.

What caught my attention was a point which Elif made about identities.

For her the word 'identity' itself is too rigid, too heavy, unshakeable.

She prefers the word 'belonging' which to her mind is more fluid, more flexible, more lively. The word is more about connections and bonds, rather than framing and being restricted by clichés and boundaries.

Commuting home on the train after the talk, I was browsing the Internet and looked at what was happening at the Australian Open.

I saw that Andy Murray is doing alright, so some sort of satisfaction flowed along my veins. Then I looked at women results.

Having noticed Maria Sharapova's win, I wondered whether Dinara Safina is back on the competitive court after her back problems. I couldn't find her in the list of results.

A kind of anguish made me type www.dinarasafina.com into the browser and - not finding anything there - to checked out her links at Facebook and Twitter.

Ultimately I established that she's not playing yet, but is considering a return to court.

I felt satisfied again.

Then I went to see how Ronnie O'Sullivan is doing in the Snooker Masters. I checked the news about Arsenal football club and - upon entering a long tunnel, where my Internet access was cut - I started to play 'genius' level Sudoku, a game of exactly 10 minutes.

So why am I telling you about that mundane and routine train journey?

Because all of that is about belongings.

For instance on Dinara Safina's Facebook page I noticed thousands of people 'Liked' her and I was one of that community.

If I hash-tag Ronnie O'Sullivan, I'm sure he'll receive many tweets back from the likes of me, and it's another community.

In my local gym, a bunch of men regularly sneer at Tottenham's successes, strongly believing that 'we' - Arsenal - shall ultimately prevail!

I took a less controversial sphere of human 'belongings' - sport, but you can easily extend the list into any realm: politics, race, religion, etc...

A couple of points to make.

Ten years ago, I didn't know anything about the 'belongings' mentioned above.

In ten years' time they may hardly matter to me. Judd Trump coud overtake Ronnie the Rocket, Andy Murray could turn into another retired and tamed 'Tiger', and so on.

But today, these small things - someone's win, someone's loss, someone's success or failure, shape my mood, my relationship, myself.

I am in fact all those belongings, attachments, connections, bonds.

But if - let's say - the same Elif Shafak goes sphere by sphere and lists all her small preferences in sport, in entertainment, in books, in all walks of life, I'm not sure that you can guess that she is 'a Turkish female writer of Muslim-Sufi background' as she is often described.

Also this week, I have listened to another talk - this time on new management theory.
The talk was full of metaphors, relating the management to extreme sports, to sailing, to crossing a river, to freezing the products.

Ten or twenty years ago it all was about hard and rigid management set by objectives.

For me it is a sign that our human consciousness is softening.

More and more we are returning to our human nature, which is fluid and unpredictable, agile and flexible, sometimes intangible and sometimes evasive, but lively and rich in colour and nuance.

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