A few days ago, a social media sensation penetrated our societal psyche and revealed underlying opinions and prejudices. TikTok dance videos featuring Lulzim Paci, a high school biology teacher, flooded social media after Vetëvendosje parliament member Fjolla Ujkani made a post on Facebook calling on local education officials in Vushtrri to respond to what she described as obscene and degenerate behavior from the teacher.
I don’t follow the news closely, so I wasn’t immediately aware of what was going on. Through Instagram and Facebook, I heard that a teacher posted indecent videos. Knowing about how frequent unreported cases of sexual harassment from teachers are, I assumed this was just such a case that had risen to the surface.
The news started to spread and it became clear that the teacher was being targeted with online abuse. In an interview with KTV, he burst into tears talking about all the negative comments he received. Amid this moral and emotional confusion, during the interview, the teacher suggested that his brother –– in case he feels ashamed of him –– could claim that Lulzim Paci is just a distant relative, and not a brother.
I was still not sure what was really going on. I knew people were coming after the teacher, but soon I started to see videos on social media where people were dancing to show solidarity for Paci. Soon after, Fjolla Ujkani made another post on Facebook, this time she was apologizing. But it was really more of a defensive half apology, which created even more social media debate.
I decided to watch the teacher’s “obscene and degenerate” TikTok videos. I watched several times, then re-read Ujkani’s Facebook posts, and then watched Paci’s videos again. The videos were a delight, I loved them. His joyful dance steps, the vivid blue sky and clouds painted on his living room ceiling, the pleasure Paci clearly takes from lively traditional music.
I was very confused. I thought that I had watched the wrong video, surely parliament member Ujkani was talking about something else. I could not make sense of it. And then I could make sense of it in the way I make sense of everything: writing.
Binary thinking of right and wrong and do’s and don’ts produces harsh realities that are sharp and cold. People pick sides. Even if people find themselves in the middle of an argument, they still let one side win in their mind because picking a side is better than not picking anything at all. Once a side is picked, personal defense mechanisms get attached to a collective issue and through advocating for a public case, we are protecting and projecting our personal issues.
We live in a traumatized society. However, the symptoms of trauma on a collective conscious level do not always show up in the way psychological textbooks, case studies or even diagnostic manuals suggest they might. They find their way to the surface in very weird and almost unnoticeable forms, one of which is taking one’s profession or life too seriously and seeing playfulness as a childish act that has no room in the grown-up world. The equivalent of ‘grown men don’t cry’ is ‘grown-up people don’t play.’ Some adults take comfort in rigidity because it is too painful to be fluid in a life that disappoints you.
But play is crucial. It is one of the few mechanisms that integrate our imagination, body, thought, senses, creativity, curiosity, previous knowledge and memories. It opens the door to self-actualization and elevates our mood. And funny enough, serious work is born from serious play.
To dance, spread joy, have fun and radiate love is the right of everyone no matter their demographic background. It is a fundamental principle of life. Not just humans, all species engage in acts of play. That being said, I don’t see how any profession can inhibit the act of expressing joy. If we allow it to do so, we are taking life very seriously and are succumbing to roles of what a profession should or should not enable one to do.
Furthermore, we are sublimating and projecting our own traumas, fears, unfulfilled desires, ideal versions about the self and closing ourselves towards the possibility of human expression. We are using the comfort of a profession to seal us off from the reminder that we can’t be who we really want. This is why I believe we often obsessively curate our social media accounts and even our life to reflect our profession, because we can’t reflect who we really are outside of it.
If once and a while someone who dares to be free comes along, especially if they emerge where power dynamics (a cocktail of defense mechanisms and inferiority complexes) are in play, their joy and freedom can serve as a painful reminder, almost unbearable, of the sublimated desires of others that want to get free but can’t. Bullying this person who chooses to behave differently becomes the only outlet for the self-repressed personality. To me, Paci is an honest and self-actualized human who happened to fall prey to a repressive and unhealthy mindset.
That being said, it is very easy to unite in protecting someone only to find out later on that we are using the same language we are now fighting against. Let’s not cancel bullies. Let’s not hate Fjolla Ujkani. Let this case serve as a sad but accurate representation of our collective coping mechanisms.
Let this case help us learn how we can all heal together. Through hate and pointing fingers, we only raise the other person’s defensive shields. We want people to learn from their mistakes and grow from them, not find ways to defend themselves further.
I am part of academia myself and I never see it as a boundary to what I do. In contrast, I see academia as a place that advocates for opening up worlds and minds and always helping others self-actualize. It is a place where knowledge is produced and it is built on the foundation of helping knowledge circulate. The biggest lesson we can give is to inspire others to seek who they are and follow who they can be.
Let’s not let professions dictate our personalities. Let’s not use a role or a profession as an excuse to not follow the dreams we are too scared to think of. But most importantly, let’s not be intimidated by people who dare to be themselves: let’s be inspired and see them as people who open the doors for us to do the same.
Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.