Today’s blog post is a bit incoherent. Really it is simply a bunch of disjointed ideas I have floating around my head. Nevertheless, I hope some of my thoughts resonate with you :-).
Who am I? Who are you?
Identity is created by contact. It is not a fixed quantity. Context determines which group identity I will choose as most prominent at any given time. Group identity can foster an “us” and “them” mentality.
Nationality – A question I’ve been asked on numerous occasions is, am I more this or that; more Norwegian or more American? Does the question refer to my ultimate allegiance or is it asking about my way of thinking or cultural identification? Am I one or the other? Or perhaps a hybrid; both and at the same time, neither nor?
When my oldest daughter was a child she was once told that by having an American father and a Norwegian mother she was half American and half Norwegian. I still remember the indignant look on her face as she answered that she was neither half this nor half that. Rather she was one hundred percent American and one hundred percent Norwegian.
Religion – An expression I have heard a lot in Norway and the US in recent years is, “Muslims are …..” Fill in the blank. If the speaker is critical to Islam, or to foreigners from “Muslim” countries he/she may then go on to describe any number of negative stereotypes. In a similar vein, if the speaker is positively predisposed to Islam or Muslims, he/she may describe a number of positive stereotypes. Is one more correct than the other? If I were, in the phrase above, to replace the word Muslim, with the word Christian, Jew, Atheist or any other religion or worldview, I’m guessing that many would react by saying that it is impossible to make a blanket statement about nature or character of any individual based solely on his/her religion or worldview.
Conflict – Is religion the deepest identity we have, trumping all others? I’m reminded of the war of partition (1947) between what would become India and Pakistan (East and West). It appeared as though religion was the primary identity marker; Hindu vs Muslim. Yet, just over two decades later (1971) East and West Pakistan entered into a civil war. Both sides were Muslim, but now the key identity marker was culture and language.
In conflict between one group and another, it seems that we have a propensity to judge “the other” based on their most despicable members, their most offensive actions and their worst character flaws, yet when we judge our own group we look at our most noble members, our most gallant actions and our best character attributes. Hmmm. Perhaps I need re-evaluate how I view “the other” as well as how I view my “own”?
What unifies us? “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” Erik Hoffer – The True Believer, 1952
Question/challenge to self – In a world filled with variety, how can I cultivate a habit that looks for positive attributes in all people in order to be more inclusive in my self-defined group identification? And in this way perhaps contribute to nurturing a culture of respect for and acceptance of diversity, including “the other”, in order to lay a foundation for peaceful co-existence.