Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Not “one of us”, not “one of them”


Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’m an only child. I’m used to not being part of a small family. I remember growing up, watching the way brothers and sisters interacted and feeling excluded not just from their little circle, but from that whole dynamic. I have no idea what it would have been like to not be an only child (obviously) to the extent that I don’t know what it would be like to raise more than one child. I know, people do it. It just seems like a big leap to me.

I’m hyper-social. I’m very close to my cousins and even to some of my second and third cousins. I’ve always had several groups of friends at school and university. I never felt like I was comfortable having just one circle of friends. Within each circle, I never really liked to count myself as “one of them”, but rather, I liked to focus on my relationships with individuals within the group. Sure, it might be a group of maybe 20 people and I was very close to 10 of them, and very very close to two. But it was those 2, and then those 10 that I focused on. Not the “group” per se.

I continued being hyper-social into university. Joined several different places, based on my varied interests. As a computer science undergrad, I was never “one of them”, didn’t identify with the whole computer geek thing. But I had many friends within that group, and so with each one of these, I felt like one of the pair of us. If that makes sense. I guess if we were in an outing with JUST the people I was close to, I would have felt like “one of them” but it would only have been one tiny part of my identity because there were so many other sides to me.

When I worked for P&G, I identified with the company as a whole for a short while, then realized that most of my friends were from outside my department; I’d be invited to their weddings, etc., but I wasn’t “one of them”… and then I discovered I was part of a group of people who eventually left P&G to do grad studies… so I was one of them in the sense of “not being one of them” who stayed at P&G..

And now at work… for a long time while doing my PhD, I was a staff (not faculty) member. I was “one of them” staff but also teaching part-time and pursuing PhD made me feel like “one of them” academics/faculty.

And now I am faculty, but not full-time teaching faculty. So I’m “one of them” but not really in the fullest sense most people understand it. And I still identify strongly with staff, even though I’ve agreed to take on a leadership role in the AAUP, an alternative faculty body.

With my online life, for a while I was “one of them” PhD students about to finish their PhDs, learning tips on how to finish writing and how to prepare for the viva. But I was never really “one of them” because I was a remote student, not a residential one. My challenges were different.

I work at a place where there are a lot of wonderful people who care about education, and like integrating educational innovation including ed tech, but I’m not really “one of them” because I take slightly different views and approaches to ed tech (I intersect with each of “them” on various points, but I am not fully one of “them”).

I identify a lot with communities and individuals I’ve met online. Some of my favorite twitter hashtags (#digped #rhizo14 #clmooc and now #ccourses) – it’s a lot about identifying with the ideas and the individual people. Groups, for me, are not the main thing. People are. (and here is a side note: if I look like I am defensive about something, I’m not being defensive of a group or clique that seems to be there; I am responding about a person; I don’t think there is anything wrong with that as long as we’re not in a super-professional context – and even in my professional context I care about people and their feelings; it just seems that sometimes unintentionally as I do that, I make other people feel excluded and for that I am sorry; because even though clearly I care about some people more than others, I never mean to hurt anyone… I think!)

You know, I’m fully Egyptian and I love Egypt… but I didn’t grow up here… I remember growing up in Kuwait, when we used to look at things in Egypt or that Egyptians did/said and say “typical Egyptian” (a snobbish way of saying, I’m “not like them”). But I mean, obviously, in Kuwait, I’m not Kuwaiti… not “one of them”… and in my last year at school, year 12, all my Egyptian friends my age were at university in Egypt except for one other doing A levels with me and a few others not as close doing other stuff… I made more friends with my A level classmates who were Polish, Pakistani, etc., and friends with people who were younger than me one or two years, a group of mostly Egyptians and a group of mostly foreigners (my choir friends). I was not “one of them” or “them” or “them”. I didn’t belong to the Egyptians, I did not belong to the non-Egyptians.

I remember one of my facebook friends, just before she stopped wearing the hijab (Islamic head covering) wrote something on facebook about not feeling she belonged to “these” nor “those”, and I instinctively knew she was talking about planning to take it off, that she could not identify with the majority who wore it nor the majority who did not. I don’t identify myself right now with people who don’t wear it, people who took it off, or people who continue to wear it. The truth is, I never identified with any of them, because my reasons for wearing it were mine at the time. I did not wear it as part of a “wave” (when many did – I cannot speak for their reasons, but I knew I was not “one of them”) and whatever is going on now, it’s not for me to say or understand, but I also know there are people who still wear it for reasons different from mine, and I am not “one of them”.

But here is the thing. Here is me. Belonging, or not belonging to any group or another? That never changed who I am or why I do what I do. That was never the point, and that’s why I am surprised that anyone would feel like I am excluding them. I become part of an “us” when I am focusing on doing something with certain people. Like writing articles with Shyam Sharma, or collaborating with him and many others on Edcontexts (btw have you seen Bonnie Stewart’s latest post there?), that is “we” time. Β It is possible that those of us who worked closely on the autoethnography from beginning to now give a “clique” vibe. It’s possible others wanted to participate fully but we were not transparent enough to make a way in for them? That they did not understand how we were working and did some other stuff on their own? That we misunderstood their efforts as individual efforts and not part of the “collaboration” because they didn’t follow “our” way… whatever that is… we’re really still trying to figure it out, so I don’t really think it’s “ours”. There are a lot sub-groups of rhizo14 to which I do not belong. I was not one of them doing poetry and art and zeegas but most of “them” are still my friends and I’m totally ok not to be part of that. I’ve got a small group of “us” developing a twitter game together but I have individual relationships with each of them and there are different levels of “us”. I feel like I’m part of a group of people who do #digped discussions and write for the wonderful Hybrid Pedagogy (both the people and journal are wonderful), but I mean, really, I’m not one of “them”, right? I’m on the steering committee of the amazing #et4online (both conference and people are amazing – have you seen who the keynote/plenary speakers are?) but I’m not one of “them” am I? I’m helping out with EdCampToronto and I’ve never even BEEN to Toronto nor will I be there for the unconference. I’m not “one of them”.

You know what? I’m not one of them… I’m one of ME.

There is only one of ME.

Yup. I am an only child πŸ™‚

And this is possibly the most ego-centric post I’ve ever written, but I needed to get that off my chest.


  1. Being “One of you” is important. Have you seen the post on “Bridges” in online networks?
    I also feel as “one of me”, and I feel like a bridge in my offline life and my academic life.
    I, I, I, I, I am trying to act as a bridge online as well, particularly between pedagogical and technological communities. I see my best role online as crossfeeding these communities (and subcomminities), importing ideas from elsewhere and sharing them back where I feel they would be most helpful at the time (what and with whom changes with time, and seems to match @hrheingold’s description of his own role as a co-learner).

    You point out that you yourself belong to many online communities, but view your interaction mostly with individuals within them: #digped #rhizo14 #clmooc and now #ccourses.

    I was wondering what you thought about the “bridges” idea. The post I am referring to is here:

  2. @Bali_Maha sharing about yourself doesn’t make u egocentric – I really liked learning about u (I’m an only too and also never one of them)


  3. @LisGurthie thx so much, Liz. That post came from a lot of emotion, writing it was cathartic. Happy u’ve responded πŸ™‚


  4. The question of identity and where we belong is a continuing question, made all of the more complex by online interactions and networks. I consider you an important part of my network and yet, it has not been that long since our paths crossed. I don’t know if I am one of them, one of us, or one of me. I know I am here, with you, in your space, connected to something larger. And that is a good place to be.

    • Thanks, Kevin πŸ™‚ i really like that πŸ™‚ I still remember ur “welcome to clmooc” post about us being friends thru many networks πŸ˜‰ I guess our paths do cross quite often, but that’s mainly because I follow u places (like clmooc) – it’s this connection to ppl and ideas rather than groups but yeah, part of something(s) larger definitely, too πŸ™‚

  5. Wow Maha. Amazing ‘non-coincidence’ Please see this post I just wrote.

    touches of sense…: Rough field notes. Inklings of hope.
    @kwhamon @telliowkuwp @davecormier #rhizo14 #ccourses

  6. Maha, I pretty much echo what Kevin said – I value you as part of my connected online community, even though we only recently connected. Much of the value of Connected Learning for me is getting to work with people like you, whom I probably would never have gotten the chance to meet face-to-face. Do you, be you, you is you, I is I.

  7. “I didn’t belong to the Egyptians, I did not belong to the non-Egyptians.”

    This resonated with me because it reminded me of friends, many of whom are immigrants or children of immigrants, who feel that they are neither entirely part of “American culture” nor entirely part of their home culture. (I put “American culture in quotes, because who knows what it is exacty? As Oscar Wilde said, my country is the only one to have gone from barbarism to decadence without first passing through civilization!)

    I know that this is a challenge for many people, and that the sense of not-belonging can be very painful. It is difficult for me to understand fully, because, though I try to examine my assumptions with a critical eye and have begun to understand that I must work to dismantle the privilege I enjoy, I am, undeniably, a product of the dominant culture.

    A former student, who was born in California and whose parents are from Mexico, once said something to the effect that she’s not American, nor is she Mexican, but that she draws from both. I’m mangling her words, but what I took from the idea was that she embraces the contradiction of being “Mexican-American” and sees it as a source of strength. Perhaps another of expressing this is that by being both and neither, her experience is richer.

    I’m also reminded of a quote by Sandra Cisneros (I found it in Carol Jago’s book CISNEROS IN THE CLASSROOM): “I have suspected for a long time now that our job as Chicanos, as mexico-americanos, as amphibians, as citizens with one foot over there and one over here, is to be the bridge of unity, to be the translator in this new age…this age of chaos in which we are living when one world ends and a new one begins.”

    (I love the metaphor of being a bridge, of bringing together – whether it’s bringing together disparate cultures or creating a path for families to gain access to resources that they have lacked.)

    Your post isn’t quite saying the same thing as my alum or as Cisneros, but you also hint at a kind of power and richness from being “not one of us and not one of them.”

    • Hey Michael, thanks for this πŸ™‚ did you notice also Paul-Olivier’s comment mentions bridges? I love that metaphor, too, and am planning to look at the link he shared and see if it is used similarly to yours πŸ™‚
      I think that I may be saying similar, only that I don’d find it painful coz I am used to it :). Always liked the term cultural hybrid and never liked “third culture” coz for each individual,it is our FIRST culture right?
      I also like the term amphibian coz it clarifies a degree of comfort in different environments πŸ™‚ Shyam once wrote a post about digital amphibians πŸ™‚ was the first time i see it, and now first time i see it in the context u just shared πŸ™‚

      • Thanks for pointing out Paul-Olivier’s comment and link – I will take a closer look at that article tomorrow. πŸ™‚

        I think that it’s really positive and healthy to take the approach that you and my student have taken. At the same time, I didn’t want to downplay or minimize the emotional challenges that others have felt with this experience, if that makes sense.

        I agree: “third culture” is a bit awkward. “Amphibian” was new to me when I read the Cisneros quote a few weeks ago, and I think you’re right about its implication of comfort in different environments.

        The idea of the bridge is really important to me because it gives me a metaphor to conceptualize my role in the community I serve. That is to say, if I am making connections (building bridges) between students (or their families) and resources that they otherwise would lack, I am doing my job well.

        I encountered the term in Marshall & Oliva’s textbook Leadership for social justice: making revolutions in education (2nd ed), in a chapter that presented a case study of “bridge people” – Latino educators in Texas who advocated for students in an effort to build “bridges” for families.

        • Hey Michael, no of course you are right about emotional struggles of some people who are in-betweeners – I just wanted to make sure I was not pretending to be one of them when my experience has not been traumatic or particularly difficult, whereas theirs is qualitatively different and probably needs much deeper analysis and sensitivity when dealing with it, if that makes sense πŸ™‚
          I like the title of that book and chapter, will look it up… Are you in#ccourses btw?

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