This is a bit different from my normal posts. It has been brewing inside me for a while and the Five Minute Friday prompt finally caused it to bubble out. I took a bit longer than five minutes but, even so, I am only scratching the surface of a complex topic. Some people may disagree, and that is fine, but let’s show respect to one another.
Who or what defines you?
Who has the right to say who you are or what you can be?
These are important questions that we all have to face.
I work a lot with children and teenagers, and lately I’ve been getting more and more concerned about the answers society is presenting to that question.
It began when I watched the movie Zootropolis (known as Zootopia in some countries) and I actually became quite disturbed about the message it was presenting (and I am mostly a Disney fan.)
The movie tells the story of a rabbit called Judy Hopps, who dreams of being a police officer. Zootropolis prides itself on being a forward-thinking society where predators and prey can co-exist and animals are not bound by stereotypes from the past that dictate who they are or what they can be.
Even so, the idea of a bunny cop is unprecedented and Judy works hard and fights against prejudice to achieve her goal.
So far, so good. I’m all for breaking free of stereotypes, following your dreams and refusing to be defined by others’ opinions.
But then what does define you? Where I struggle with Zootropolis is with the philosophy it presents that “Anyone can be anything.”
It sounds appealing, but really? Anyone can be anything?
It’s just not true. I can’t be anything I want to be. I can’t be an Olympic gymnast or a nuclear physicist or Miss America no matter how much I might want to be. (Fortunately I have no desire to be any of these things.)
In Zootropolis, we see Finnick the fox, dressed in an elephant costume. He is in disguise as part of a scam he is pulling off along with Nick Wilde, and to explain his costume to Judy, he says, “When I grow up, I want to be an elephant.”
What bothers me is Judy’s response: “You want to be an elephant when you grow up? You be an elephant, because this is Zootropolis. Anyone can be anything.”
The message is hammered home throughout the film. You define yourself. You can be who you want to be. And understandably it’s a popular message, but it’s just not true. A fox can’t be an elephant.
The reality as I see it is, if God is our Creator, God defines us. He created us as we are and yes, we have certain limitations. We can’t choose our genetic makeup, or the family we are born into, or our strengths and weaknesses, or our race, or our height, or, dare I say it, our gender.*
Psalm 139:13 says “You made all the delicate inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.” If God has created us and made us who we are with our particular combination of attributes and talents and quirks, surely we need to accept that.
Surely true freedom is not found in fighting against who God made us to be in order to define ourselves, but in embracing who God made us to be and living out that identity to the full.
To my mind a society where “anyone can be anything” is not so much a vision of paradise as something scarily similar to the refrain throughout the book of Judges, when Israel was really not a happy place to be: “In those days, Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25 NLT)
*This does not discount gender dysphoria, which I believe is a real issue for some people, and which needs to be handled with compassion and sensitivity. I found the book “Transgender” by Vaughan Roberts helpful in gaining more understanding of this topic.
(Check it out here: UK, US).