I replied, "Good. It was more of a walk. But it was beautiful."
Her: "You're a serious hiker, right?"
Me: "I guess so."
This simple exchange--or one like it--happens every day. We question our abilities. We confirm our expertise.
I noticed this conversation because it happened during a break at a two-day meeting where people heatedly debated the question of who is an artist. In that context, this simple exchange about hiking got me thinking.
What does it mean when someone says she is a hiker, or a scientist, or an artist? It can mean:
- I do this thing often.
- I do this thing at a high level of ability.
- I have expertise in doing this thing.
- I make my living doing this thing.
- I consider this thing to be a core part of my identity.
- I affiliate with this thing.
- I aspire to do this thing professionally, and I am affiliating to build that future for myself.
- It's personal. Even if you think you have the way to define who is an artist or a scientist or an expert, each individual may still choose to affiliate (or opt out) based on his/her own standards.
- It's relational. The things we call ourselves and each other do impact the way we see and treat each other.
- It could be much richer and more expansive. A word like "artist" is a heavy hammer to impose on every nail. If the Eskimos have fifty words for snow, can't we have fifty words for artist? If we can add more nuance to the ways we name ourselves, we can move from debate to dialogue about the opportunities inherent in a diverse and complex world.