Thandie Newton Embracing otherness, embracing myself拥抱他人，拥抱自己
Embracing otherness. When I first heard this theme, I thought, well,
embracing otherness is embracing myself. And the journey to that place of
understanding and acceptance has been an interesting one for me, and it's given
me an insight into the whole notion of self, which I think is worth sharing with
We each have a self, but I don't think that we're born with one. You know
how newborn babies believe they're part of everything; they're not separate?
Well that fundamental sense of oneness is lost on us very quickly. It's like
that initial stage is over -- oneness: infancy, unformed, primitive. It's no
longer valid or real. What is real is separateness, and at some point in early
babyhood, the idea of self starts to form. Our little portion of oneness is
given a name, is told all kinds of things about itself, and these details,
opinions and ideas become facts, which go towards building ourselves, our
identity. And that self becomes the vehicle for navigating our social world. But
the self is a projection based on other people's projections. Is it who we
really are? Or who we really want to be, or should be?
So this whole interaction with self and identity was a very difficult one
for me growing up. The self that I attempted to take out into the world was
rejected over and over again. And my panic at not having a self that fit, and
the confusion that came from my self being rejected, created anxiety, shame and
hopelessness, which kind of defined me for a long time. But in retrospect, the
destruction of my self was so repetitive that I started to see a pattern. The
self changed, got affected, broken, destroyed, but another one would evolve --
sometimes stronger, sometimes hateful, sometimes not wanting to be there at all.
The self was not constant. And how many times would my self have to die before I
realized that it was never alive in the first place?
I grew up on the coast of England in the '70s. My dad is white from
Cornwall, and my mom is black from Zimbabwe. Even the idea of us as a family was
challenging to most people. But nature had its wicked way, and brown babies were
born. But from about the age of five, I was aware that I didn't fit. I was the
black atheist kid in the all-white Catholic school run by nuns. I was an
anomaly, and my self was rooting around for definition and trying to plug in.
Because the self likes to fit, to see itself replicated, to belong. That
confirms its existence and its importance. And it is important. It has an
extremely important function. Without it, we literally can't interface with
others. We can't hatch plans and climb that stairway of popularity, of success.
But my skin color wasn't right. My hair wasn't right. My history wasn't right.
My self became defined by otherness, which meant that, in that social world, I
didn't really exist. And I was "other" before being anything else -- even before
being a girl. I was a noticeable nobody.
Another world was opening up around this time: performance and dancing.
That nagging dread of self-hood didn't exist when I was dancing. I'd literally
lose myself. And I was a really good dancer. I would put all my emotional
expression into my dancing. I could be in the movement in a way that I wasn't
able to be in my real life, in myself.
And at 16, I stumbled across another opportunity, and I earned my first
acting role in a film. I can hardly find the words to describe the peace I felt
when I was acting. My dysfunctional self could actually plug in to another self,
not my own, and it felt so good. It was the first time that I existed inside a
fully-functioning self -- one that I controlled, that I steered, that I gave
life to. But the shooting day would end, and I'd return to my gnarly, awkward
By 19, I was a fully-fledged movie actor, but still searching for
definition. I applied to read anthropology at university. Dr. Phyllis Lee gave
me my interview, and she asked me, "How would you define race?" Well, I thought
I had the answer to that one, and I said, "Skin color." "So biology, genetics?"
she said. "Because, Thandie, that's not accurate. Because there's actually more
genetic difference between a black Kenyan and a black Ugandan than there is
between a black Kenyan and, say, a white Norwegian. Because we all stem from
Africa. So in Africa, there's been more time to create genetic diversity." In
other words, race has no basis in biological or scientific fact. On the one
hand, result. Right? On the other hand, my definition of self just lost a huge
chunk of its credibility. But what was credible, what is biological and
scientific fact, is that we all stem from Africa -- in fact, from a woman called
Mitochondrial Eve who lived 160,000 years ago. And race is an illegitimate
concept which our selves have created based on fear and ignorance.
Strangely, these revelations didn't cure my low self-esteem, that feeling
of otherness. My desire to disappear was still very powerful. I had a degree
from Cambridge; I had a thriving career, but my self was a car crash, and I
wound up with bulimia and on a therapist's couch. And of course I did. I still
believed my self was all I was. I still valued self-worth above all other worth,
and what was there to suggest otherwise? We've created entire value systems and
a physical reality to support the worth of self. Look at the industry for
self-image and the jobs it creates, the revenue it turns over. We'd be right in
assuming that the self is an actual living thing. But it's not. It's a
projection which our clever brains create in order to cheat ourselves from the
reality of death.
But there is something that can give the self ultimate and infinite
connection -- and that thing is oneness, our essence. The self's struggle for
authenticity and definition will never end unless it's connected to its creator
-- to you and to me. And that can happen with awareness -- awareness of the
reality of oneness and the projection of self-hood. For a start, we can think
about all the times when we do lose ourselves. It happens when I dance, when I'm
acting. I'm earthed in my essence, and my self is suspended. In those moments,
I'm connected to everything -- the ground, the air, the sounds, the energy from
the audience. All my senses are alert and alive in much the same way as an
infant might feel -- that feeling of oneness.
And when I'm acting a role, I inhabit another self, and I give it life for
awhile, because when the self is suspended so is divisiveness and judgment. And
I've played everything from a vengeful ghost in the time of slavery to Secretary
of State in 2004. And no matter how other these selves might be, they're all
related in me. And I honestly believe the key to my success as an actor and my
progress as a person has been the very lack of self that used to make me feel so
anxious and insecure. I always wondered why I could feel others' pain so deeply,
why I could recognize the somebody in the nobody. It's because I didn't have a
self to get in the way. I thought I lacked substance, and the fact that I could
feel others' meant that I had nothing of myself to feel. The thing that was a
source of shame was actually a source of enlightenment.
And when I realized and really understood that my self is a projection and
that it has a function, a funny thing happened. I stopped giving it so much
authority. I give it its due. I take it to therapy. I've become very familiar
with its dysfunctional behavior. But I'm not ashamed of my self. In fact, I
respect my self and its function. And over time and with practice, I've tried to
live more and more from my essence. And if you can do that, incredible things
I was in Congo in February, dancing and celebrating with women who've
survived the destruction of their selves in literally unthinkable ways --
destroyed because other brutalized, psychopathic selves all over that beautiful
land are fueling our selves' addiction to iPods, Pads, and bling, which further
disconnect ourselves from ever feeling their pain, their suffering, their death.
Because, hey, if we're all living in ourselves and mistaking it for life, then
we're devaluing and desensitizing life. And in that disconnected state, yeah, we
can build factory farms with no windows, destroy marine life and use rape as a
weapon of war. So here's a note to self: The cracks have started to show in our
constructed world, and oceans will continue to surge through the cracks, and oil
and blood, rivers of it.
Crucially, we haven't been figuring out how to live in oneness with the
Earth and every other living thing. We've just been insanely trying to figure
out how to live with each other -- billions of each other. Only we're not living
with each other; our crazy selves are living with each other and perpetuating an
epidemic of disconnection.
Let's live with each other and take it a breath at a time. If we can get
under that heavy self, light a torch of awareness, and find our essence, our
connection to the infinite and every other living thing. We knew it from the day
we were born. Let's not be freaked out by our bountiful nothingness. It's more a
reality than the ones our selves have created. Imagine what kind of existence we
can have if we honor inevitable death of self, appreciate the privilege of life
and marvel at what comes next. Simple awareness is where it begins.
Thank you for listening.