Transcribed from Dan’s TEDxFulbrightDublin presentation in 2016
This is the tale of two people, my sister and I. My sister has an impeccable American Accent, she wears American clothes, goes to an American College, is dating an American guy, and lives in an American city, Chicago. I on the other hand have a rather confused accent, clearly have questionable fashion sense, I work and play across multiple continents, I am dating….nobody, and I live in Dublin Ireland…at least for now. So, here’s the question, ‘Who’s at home?’ Who feels more at home and what contributes to that feeling?
The son of an Indian diplomat, I have grown up in 10 different countries around the world. The thing about travelling is that you are often confronted with the same question. It’s 4 simple words and I always get asked this question
Implied in this question is that I’m not from here, maybe I don’t belong here, and that I certainly don’t consider this my home. It’s a difficult question but one I’ve had to confront my entire life. The reason is difficult because it’s a question that has been hard for me to answer.
‘Where AM I from?’
If it’s based on my accent, predominantly American. If it’s based on where I was born, it’s the United Arab Emirates. If it’s based on my nationality or passport it’s Indian. If it’s based on my most vivid memories growing up – that would be Zimbabwe. And if it’s based on what I know the best and frequent the most, that would be Heathrow Airport, Terminal 1.
I also struggle because I don’t just come FROM 10 countries, I come WITH 10 countries. I belong in those communities and I’ve learned so much. They make me, they shape me, they mold me, they distinguish me into who I am today.
The UNFPA conducted a census last year and found that over 240 million people have left and migrated to a foreign land, another 700 million have left and migrated within their own country. That puts the number of us who come from a different space into a new space at close to a Billion. And there is a term for people like us…it’s Alien.
Now when I said that word alien there were some thoughts that went through your head. And because I was an alien literally from the time I was born I went and looked up what that title meant. What is this label they have given me? I went to the most reputable source, google and typed in the definition of alien. Now the first answer I found was what I expected and it is sort of neutral: Coming from a foreign land. But as I did more reading and found the synonyms, the connotations, how it’s used, and how people feel about the word alien, I have to be honest, it was disheartening. There were words like remote, distant, uncomfortable, distasteful. Then it got worse, there were also words like repugnant, and finally extraterrestrial. I thought about that because we have given that label to a Billion people around the world; Which at best is non-citizen,non-belonging, non-local and at worst, not human.
Why do we use that word….alien?
So I did a little more digging and I found that alien comes from the latin word alienus which simply means, other or different. I get that the Ramamoorthy family, my family, are quite different. The 4 Ramoorthy’s live on 4 Continents. My father in Asia, my mother in Africa, my sister in North America, and me here in Europe.and yet in all of those places we have found where we belong, a home. We have become Resident Aliens. So I looked for patterns to see what makes an alien feel like a Resident Alien and I came up with 3 things.
#1 Embrace Difference
There was a time when where you were born was where you were raised. That informed your opinions, your ideas, your attitudes, and your thoughts. It also informed how you conceived concepts such as here versus there; home versus enemies; safe versus danger; and even us versus them. Them being different; them being other; THEM being, Alien. But we live in a different world now. We live in a world where the internet reveals and social media informs; where travel educates and where diverse cultures in our own neighborhoods tell us that some of those stereotypes and boxes are wrong. We are liberated to have our own views, our own opinions; making each of us different, making each of us, other, making each of us, Alien. So, it’s not about embracing the different but it’s about embracing the difference between us. Because there, in the shades of grey at the intersection, is where change in life happens. We all now have an opportunity to Embrace Difference.
#2 Embrace Multiplicity
In 1993 I lived in a country in North Africa called Algeria. I was only a young child so my fondest memory was stealing chocolate cake and sneaking it to the school cat. I was really popular as you can see. Now, as I grew older I realized that 1993 was a year of political turmoil, close to a civil war. There were international perceptions about what was going on in a country that I had lived in.
Or take for another example Zimbabwe. Prior to moving to Zimbabwe my only views of Zimbabwe was what animal planet or national geographic told me about Sub Saharan Africa. And then I moved there, I engaged, I traveled, I met people. I lived in incredible homes and went to an incredible school. I had a quality and richness to life that is yet unparalleled compared to anywhere else I’ve gone. Someone once said that discovery is not from seeing new sights alone, but seeing with new eyes. Embracing the difference, the other, the alien actually awakens some of those revelations and perspectives. Your frame of mind ceases to be confined to oversimplified, binary options such as pro State or pro Church; pro life or pro choice and becomes more about pro voice. You receive new eyes to see the world when you embrace multiplicity.
#3 Embrace the Resident Alien in Yourself
Now with all of this traveling, adapting, conforming and what might seem like straddling the fence you might ask, ‘but who is the real Dan?’ There is a level to this way of thinking where you could become disingenuous to yourself.
Because of this I think it’s helpful to think about a chameleon. Chameleons feel textures, they hear sounds, and they have this amazing ability to take on the colors of their surroundings. But with all of that adapting they never cease to be a chameleon. More so you know a chameleon not when it’s similar to its surroundings but when it is dissimilar. That’s when you see its presence and recognize that it is a chameleon. Likewise for us humans it’s not what makes us similar but what makes us different, what makes us other, what makes us alien is what makes us truly us. So embrace the resident alien in yourself.
The Ramamoorthy family have found beautiful homes in strange places that have embodied these 3 Ideas. Whether it be a choir, whether it be a business setup, whether it be government halls, whether it be our churches. Wherever we go we have found these 3 things that help aliens become resident aliens. So let us be a people, let us be a nation, let us be a world that embraces difference, that embraces multiplicity, and that embraces you and I…..Resident Aliens.
Dan Ram ignites the stage as an in-person event and virtual event EMCEE & Speaker at over 100 events a year. He has shared the stage with international luminaries including President Barack Obama, Sir Richard Branson, Reid Hoffman, Nico Rosberg, and Grammy-winning artists and celebrities. Level up your communication skills through his course and mastermind “Speaking Success”. If you want to make this the year that you master your personal brand, check out Dan’s Full Service Personal Branding Agency. His passion is to inspire people with his motto ‘Start Now Start Simple’ in building a future we all want to live in.