What I mean with having a “strong” character is that you know who you are, what you belief in, what your values are, what is right and wrong. So it does sound stupid to say that it could be a bad thing to have one, don’t you think? Yeah, I absolutely agree with you on that point. It sounds stupid.
Let me start by talking a bit about myself. Don’t worry, it’s really just a little bit! When I left “home” for the first time, I went to Indonesia to work in a social project for a year. Yeah, I was one of these guys who wanted to make the world a better place, and I pretty much had my opinions formed on how the world should look like. For one thing, I was in a social democratic party. I thought governments should support their people in any way possible. Today, I am absolutely clueless when it comes to how the world should look like. And for a long time, I thought that was a bad thing. Until today it made click! Wow, that’s not it!… or at least not always.
And here’s why having a strong character is not always a good thing
Because while it makes your life easier and it helps you to orient yourself in life, it also makes you less open for other perspectives. Sure, it was always clear to me that it was going abroad what changed me. That the simple fact that I was bombarded by completely different ideas and opinions has made me a man without opinions. But it is only today when I came across the idea of a “working self”, that I figured that, in my case, that was a good thing. Your working self is essentially the part of yourself that is “activated” right now, at this very moment. We all have a self, the sense of who we are, but we also all have different selves based on the context in which we find ourselves. Cultural psychologists would say that we have “multiple selves”. The working self is the one that’s most flexible and adaptable.
But here’s the catch: people with a strong character, who know themselves very well and who have perfectly defined opinions, are also far less flexible. When they come to a new environment, their established self-concept and their working self intermingle and let them form their view on the situation they find themselves in. That often means that they end up being less open to new ideas and, in turn, more defensive when something challenges and idea that is crucial to their sense of how the world works.
In other words: loosing a sense of who you are is the first step in becoming multicultural
Before you can form a new perspective of the world, your previous one has to be shaken up first. And this is what happened to me and millions of others expatriates around the world. So, if you are feeling lost, if you forgot who you are, just don’t worry about it. Well, that’s a funny thing to say. Of course it is something that won’t leave your head so easily. Feeling lost is a terrible thing. But knowing that it is necessary and that it will ultimately help you to to become who you are helps a bit, doesn’t it?