An individual’s perception of their belonging is influenced by their interaction with the wider world. This leads them to face and overcome obstacles and to make choices, and thus accordingly gain personal insight and self discovery. Due to the notion of belonging being such an intrinsic human need, texts including Emily Dickinson’s poems “I have been hungry all the years”, “This is my letter to the world”, and “A word dropped careless on a page” highlight the struggle in searching for such a connection, depicting the persona to eventually come to a point where she must make the decision to make sacrifices to her identity, or to seek a different avenue for satisfaction. National Geographic Article Bhutan’s Enlightenment Experiment (2008) by Brook Larmer also depicts similar notions of the difficulties in a Tibetan mountain country’s attempt at connecting to the larger world as they face obstacles and choices are inevitable. Thus, an individual’s sense of belonging emerges from the connections made as well as the choices made thereafter. Interaction with the world enables individuals to realise the obstacles in their pursuit for happiness and acceptance. Reclusive poet Emily Dickinson’s “I have been hungry all the years” entails a persona’s attempt at integrating with her society.
Despite the initial yearning to connect to society, expressed as an extended metaphor of “hunger”, the persona meets with the difficulties of the need to sacrifice her identity due to society’s conforming attitudes and restrictive nature. The paradoxical idea is effectively illuminated when the persona realises that “the entering takes away”, thus enforcing her to make the choice to revert back to a more comfortable state in nature and self where her individuality can be nurtured rather than diminished. Dickinson utilizes the biblical allusion to the sacrament, “ample bread” and “curious wine” reflecting her religious climate, as well as portraying that society has expectations of such conformity. The persona finds that she prefers and makes the choice of “the crumbs in Nature’s dining room” rather than the “ample bread”, a juxtaposition symbolic of the choice of individuality in nature over the nourishing effects of belonging in society. Furthermore, her discomfort is communicated as, “The plenty hurt me, ‘T was so new… As berry of a mountain bust transplanted to the road”; an extended metaphorical image depicting the persona to feel out of place, and suggesting that society’s inevitable conformity erodes individuality.
Thus it is the choices made that determine where and to whom a sense of belonging is attained, and this shapes their perception of what is encompassed in having a true sense of belonging as they gain personal insight. The ability to find a true sense of belonging lies in the individual’s ability to overcome obstacles and make informed decisions on where in the world they feel the greatest satisfaction and comfort. Similar to Dickinson’s sacrifice of individuality, Larmer also explores the new nation of Bhutan as it enters the international stage, finding it difficult to maintain its identity whilst trying to be modern. Bhutan is depicted to be a nation living in “splendid isolation” making a choice to “open up to the rest of the world”. This paradox in “splendid isolation” portrays the idea that despite isolation having negative connotations of neglect and alienation, Bhutan’s “cultural vitality” has in fact thrived as they were able to embrace their “Buddhist identity”. Larmer conveys that this choice has lead to changes in the nation. The cultural imbalance and change has shocked the traditionalist Bhutanese people as the anachronism “wearing high cut Nike shoes and baggy pants dancing b-boyz” in a country with an image “steeped in mysticism, land of the flying tigress”.
He also utilizes humour “unless they were spinning their way to enlightenment, I might understand”, to express the cultural shock at such rapid changes. However, the people of Bhutan trust in the words of their King, as expressed by the words of a businessman, “I don’t want democracy, because it can lead to chaos, like in Nepal or India….But whatever the king says, we must eat –whether sweet or sour, poisonous or delicious”. Thus, it was ultimately the choice of the King Wangchuck to introduce such changes to his nation as he seeks to reap the benefits of such a connection with the outside world. In the search for acceptance and belonging, individuals often must face obstacles, and it is from such experience, that greater insight is gained. In Dickinson’s “This is my letter to the world”, and “A word dropped careless on a page”, which may be considered autobiographical, her search for acceptance in the literary canon leads to personal insight on what she defines as a true sense of belonging. This evolved perception of belonging to society as being diminishing to the identity is further portrayed in these poems where Dickinson promotes her desire for acceptance from her readers, however she is fearful of critique. She expresses her concern in a pleading, yet confrontational and questioning tone, “This is my letter to the world, That never wrote to me–”. She demands recognition and attention, yet the use of hyphenation depicts a vulnerable insecurity.
This portrays the idea that an individual must understand that they must sacrifice a part of their individuality and overcome the obstacles involved, in order to belong to a society. She appeals for sympathy from the American people in the inclusion, “For love of her, sweet countrymen, Judge tenderly of me!”, thus demonstrating her attempt for her works to be recognised. Furthermore, Dickinson expresses her desire for communication with the outside world as she perceives that “A Word dropped careless on a Page May stimulate an eye… Infection in the sentence breeds”, thus this extended metaphor reveals how the fear of misunderstanding and rejection is prominent for Dickinson as she struggles to connect to the world. However, she realises there exists a barrier where she must make the choice of overcoming, or, in her case, resolving to find an inner connection to the self and nature. For Bhutan, it is no longer an individual but an entire nation whose identity hangs in the balance.
The choice to be made is the entry into the global village at the cost of Bhutan’s unique Tibetan identity. The choice made by the Bhutanese then, will set them upon a course in which they no longer have control over their destinies. The situation, which Bhutan finds itself, can be paralleled to the fears faced by Dickinson in her poems. In “trying to find a balance”, Larmer reveals the fears felt by the Bhutanese in putting themselves into a set path. Bhutan’s Enlightenment Experiment also encompasses ideas on how the juxtaposition of “Game-boys and Buddhist culture can live side by side”. Since Bhutan is undergoing this ‘experiment’ to figure if modernisation, by affiliating with the rest of the world, and cultural vitality can coexist, this situation can lead to many possibilities in regards to gaining or losing a sense of belonging. Many Bhutanese raise rhetorical questions “can technology and culture blend? How can we not fall prey to the forces of globalisation?” illustrating their perception of fear, similar to Dickinson’s persona. They are skeptic of the results, demonstrated in a series of anecdotes and dialogues which effectively communicate the people’s opinions.
The skepticism seen through the Bhutanese “who would rather not have elections,” is echoed by Dickinson’s assertion that one wrongly placed choice could “spread like malaria,” and have deeply felt consequences. Some agree to the change, stating that “If we only had the old, we’d still be cocooned here, left out of the wider world”, however, a balance and middle ground must be established because “if we only had the modern, we would have lost our culture. We need both to survive.” Bhutan overcomes the obstacle of the potential loss of cultural identity due to the impacts of the influence of global communities around the world focused on monetary profits. Henceforth, it is evident that Bhutan as a nation achieves a surety of independence and conformity through the acknowledgement of their unique identity as well as their modernity; demonstrating the complex nature of belonging as shifting and evolving. Hence through analysis of Dickinson’s anthology of poetry and Bhutan’s Enlightenment Experiment, we are able to perceive how interaction with the wider world enables personal insight and self discovery to be gained. It is through the choices made which shape our perception of our belonging to society or self; an evolving, shifting, and dynamic sense of our place in the world.
Courtney from Study Moose
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