Our Identities in the 21st Century

We all have heard of the famous pronouncement Samuel Johnson was supposed to have made, that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

What then is the meaning of the statement President Trump made in the front of the Capitol when he made his inaugural speech?

“It’s time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget that                              whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.”

Apparently, he wanted to remind his fellow Americans that they were all patriots and they should put America first.

The same is happening here in Australia. Our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asked new citizens if they seek, “to join our Australian family to join us as Australian Patriots – committed to the values that define us, committed to the values that unite us.”

So, is Trump now one of Samuel Johnson’s scoundrels? Or is he just pulling America back from its international role to its traditional isolationist position?

Being a patriot and “our values” in all their forms has a lot to do with our identity. Where does that identity come from?  Our identity more likely comes from our culture and language. This identity is formed by the things that surround us, our family, our neighbourhood, our landscape, the country that is formed by the borders that define the nation, religion, climate etc.

Along come the politicians and ask us to be patriots and defend those national borders. There is no doubt our identity gives us at times comfort and security. At other times it gives us anxiety and we cringe when we are asked, in the name of patriotism, to defend something that does not feel right.

If our language is the framework for our identity then what if we are bilingual and have learnt to love another culture other than the culture of our upbringing? Scientists say our brain is rewired by a second language. Are we then less patriotic? Or can we ask the other way around, are we tied to the circumstance of our upbringing?

Towards the end of the 20th century Europeans, for instance, have grown less nationalistic and have embraced a common European cultural upbringing. Shock horror then when the English people living in other EU countries felt horrified about the negative Brexit vote. They felt more European than British and thousands want to apply for German citizenship as soon as they can. A European identity seems to take over from the old national identities. Suddenly those Britons feel the old border was being re-erected where there wasn’t any anymore. Suddenly the drawbridge is pulled back in and the English Channel becomes a moat again.

For a couple of generations, borders seemed to disappear or at least they became meaningless. Does that mean we were all losing our identities? I have the feeling national borders, often artificial constructs anyway, are not necessarily the cause of our identity.

As the population mix here in Australia changes due to immigration there is a discussion whether we belong to the West or whether we are Asian now. Asian countries become suspicious of us as we are not sufficiently Asian. They are asking whether the old colonial powers have left a Trojan Horse in their backyard. Clearly, their identity tells them we are of a different identity of which they have to be wary.

I’m sure, over the years we will, here in Australia,  develop a new identity. Most of the values our Prime Minister speaks about are universal ones anyway and they are easy to understand.

Who am I then? German or Australian? A bit of both? Or am I already forming a new identity? My two languages give me the opportunity to roam the literature of two cultures, albeit they are not too different. It is said that thinking in two languages is like having two souls. It can be very stressful to have “two souls in one’s breast”! Especially when one’s loyalties are being tested one way or another.

In my opinion questioning the policies of our government is not disloyalty at all. It is the opposite! It shows commitment to a better society. They like to speak about fairness but their policies are anything but. My Australian identity is sufficiently challenged by policies that favour the rich and discriminate against the poor.

Is my anger the reflection of some sort of identity? And if our identities are changing over time who will we be in this and the next century? And if ever there is a threat from outer space, will we discover that we have a universal identity here on Earth? It seems an identity is only apparent with an opposing identity.

I think we should ditch all those different identities and declare that we belong to the same humanity in a borderless, global society where we are all siblings of the same family under the natural guidance of Mother Earth.

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Pauses

 

 

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The backyard of Ruby’s Restaurant at Mount Kembla, NSW

 

Life can be pretty hectic. From the time we are born to the moment we die, life can be full of activities that don’t leave much time for reflections. If we stumble from event to event we could miss the important moments when we could realise, that life is not only a string of events.

If we don’t stop from time to time we are just driftwood in the great ocean of events. The events in the Universe appear to be chaotic. We have been given our five senses to make some sense out of this chaos. By doing this our intellect is only creating an image of reality, according to Deepak Chopra. But do we stop to correct that false image?

I know our sensory experience is an illusion, but nevertheless, I, and we all,  need it as a guidance in our daily life.

Sometimes a pause is forced upon us, like when we miss a train or a thunderstorm compels us to take shelter. The chain of events in which we were drifting is broken and we pause.

Some of us are creative in pausing.  A photographer might be looking at something with his inner eye and discovers that, that has always been there but would be unnoticed by people who hastened to their next event.

A poet is in pause-motion when he writes his poem. He reflects on his feelings and the circumstances that caused those feelings.  And we, the readers, pause again when we try to absorb those very feelings. This could be over a large span of time and distance proving that time too is an artificial construct of our intellect.

And what about music? Schumann’s “Kinderszenen” are such reflections on life as a child and how our childhood shapes us. But do we stop and pause to reflect on it? Children are still daydreaming – pausing in fact – even if they stare onto their iPads. We used to stare out of the windows in the classroom; daydreaming of the world outside that window. Modern children look at the iPad and expect to see beyond to what the screen has to offer.

 

I think pauses make us into proper human beings because they interrupt our constant reactions to the events that shape our lives. In those pauses, we might discover who we really are and our relationship with the world around us. It is worthwhile to reflect on the fact that we are just a temporary collection of atomic particles.

Hanukkah and Christmas are upon us. And when we light the candles it is time to look into the light and let it shine on our inner knowledge.  The holiday period at the end of the year is the big pause when we have the opportunity to recognise that we are all brothers and sisters, made from the same stardust.

 

I wish all my followers a “Happy Hanukkah, a Merry Christmas or just plain Season’s Greetings”. Let the light brighten your consciousness to a better understanding of yourself and the world around you.

 

 

 

 

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The old mining village of Mount Kembla, NSW