When I used to study the piano, I could never grow my nails long. I had to keep them short or otherwise they would have got in the way. And made those awful click and tak sounds.

Sidenote: I had to Google how these sounds should be represented in English – in Estonian it’s klõbin but Google translate gave me NO satisfying answers.

Fortunately, I had never had the urge to transform my fingernails into claws, though I must admit that I did sometimes forget to trim them and would then feel extremely self-conscious during my piano lessons. My nails would start hitting against the keys even when they were not that long – so not that long was the maximum length I could get to before cutting my fingernails short again.

Since long fingernails were never a real option, I never cared about having them. Moreover, I could not see the beauty in them – to me, they were obstacles, something that would ruin someone’s ability to play the piano. My experience with piano playing shaped and limited my perception of nails.

There is something about knowing the limits of your world and your place in it and letting that shape the way you view the world. Fingernails are a rather random example. Besides, there might be a lot of reasons for liking or not liking short or long fingernails and I do not think there is any correlation between one’s relationship with the piano and their most liked fingernail length. But I think that on an abstract level, this example is fine. I’m not conducting science here, just trying to illustrate my thoughts.

The limits of our world are determined by a lot of things: where we were born, to whom, who we were surrounded by, what kind of skills we could develop, our personality, and so on. Impossible to pinpoint it down to one thing. And when I talk about the limits of one’s world, then that entails mainly one’s beliefs about their abilities and what they can do with those. Self-efficacy and stuff. And when I talk about the world, then what I really mean is the opportunities, people, and places that we can (or cannot) interact with.

Those limits don’t just determine how we view various beauty practices and body decorations such as long nails. They determine how we view our role in the society at large and what we expect from it. Whether we see ourselves as someone that can or cannot have long nails. Whether we think that one gender should have more power than the other one or even that there are just two genders to begin with. Whether we consider Western ideas as the epitome of moral superiority or see them as the root of all evil. Or something completely else that affects not just our individual lives, but everyone else’s as well, because we take those ideas with us when we go to vote, form and join organizations, share something on social media, and decide whether the person in front of us (or on TV, in a book, in the news, etc.) is good or bad.

So what am I saying? That people don’t actually make decisions, but just try to navigate their individual world within its limits as well as they can, the limits that were not created by them, but formed during growing up and influenced by a complex set of factors? Aren’t I simplifying things too much, giving people less credit for their actions than they deserve?

When I started college, the piano had to move to a less prominent position in my life. My nails could grow without ever reminding themselves to me with various clicks and taks. I started to see the beauty in having longer nails. They were not obtrusive anymore, they were a sign of good health if they did not break or bend.

When conditions change, perception of the world becomes different.

It’s hard to make someone see the world as you do if they have not experienced it in the same way.

Then, perhaps, we should first try to see the world from their perspective. And that requires getting to know our own limits and then testing them out by changing our environment. Shaking things up. Traveling. Leaving our bubble. Trying out new things.

And once we have done that, then perhaps it’s easier to combine all these individual bubbles into one. And see that we don’t have to stick to just one role and its limits and beliefs.

Now that I am in Buenos Aires, I have decided to take up bouldering. The last time I went climbing was about a year ago, so I think I am doing really well – I have been to a bouldering gym three times in the last month. When I go climbing, I cut my nails super short beforehand to be able to hold on to the “rocks”. It’s exciting.

 

The image depicts an artwork at the Buenos Aires Museum of Modern Art

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