Sunday, March 22, 2015

We Are More Interesting

I can remember asking my Mom why I didn't have an accent. I think I had just heard a cool Scottish one and thought it would be awesome to talk like that. Billy Connolly and Sean Connery had one up on me. Apparently I did have an accent, but I just didn't know because it was so normal to me. A big part of growing up is supposed to be about discovering who you are. Forging an identity. A beautiful part of that can be looking back at your history and your ancestors.

When your people have been oppressed, there is a power and energy in reclaiming that legacy. In finding the stories of brilliance that have been hidden because they are not consistent with the tale of the oppressor. As a white, english-speaking, middle-income (which is actually upper income in relative terms), male, my story was not obviously one where I could do that. Mandela came along, put on a Springbok rugby jersey and told us it was ok to claim the joint stories in forging a new, better, identity. I could be a part of a bigger story. Part of a bigger tribe.

Finding my story any other way than looking widely wouldn't really be possible. More than four or five generations ago a conglomeration of people from around the world fell in love and I am the product of that. There are German Jews, Khaki-clad Boers, Red-coated English, Sheep-stealing Scots and who knows what other dalliances. Paternity tests are a new invention, colourblind love is not.

Before living nowhere, I lived in England for just over six years. In the process of applying for joint citizenship, I had to study the 'Life in the United Kingdom' guide for new residents. Indigenous English people laugh at this since many have no idea about the answers to several of the test questions. I find it interesting that for all the claims of dominance of English, and subsequently American culture, there aren't really the same guardians of that culture as when a culture has been ill-treated. The 'culture' is one defined by the users and that is always changing.

Part of reclaiming an identity seems to be looking back to how life was and seeing that as part of who you are now. 200 years ago, I am pretty convinced most of my ancestors were impoverished farmers. Now, I do agree that finding some way to live more sustainably in touch with the world as custodians rather than consumers is the way forward. But I wouldn't lose a second deciding when I would like to live.

The idea of 'Self/Identity' is one of the ideas put forward as a block to progress in 'This Idea Must Die'. 'The Righteous Mind' looks at why good people are divided by politics and religion. I think the idea of identity lies at the heart of it.

Part of us wants to conserve the beauty of unchanged stories. To create holy objects and ideas. To protect communities. To allow self-determination and pride. This requires respecting other peoples stories. It requires accepting that they are not yours and allowing others safe space to determine their own path.

Another part rejects the idea that the genetic and geographical lottery decides who we are. It rejects the idea that we are born with a story and says each individual can create their own story. Each individual can incorporate the best elements from whatever stories the world offers. As long as they do no harm to others. Harm is where it gets messy. Is disrespect harm? Is 'stealing someone elses story' harm?

Personally I think creating exclusive bubbles of culture is a flawed model. I like the idea of a multi-faceted shared story. I reject the idea that the colour of my skin and the way I leave the toilet seat define me. In fact I am less interested in what defines me. We are far more interesting than me. We can be my identity. I am that.

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