Saturday, February 6, 2010

You can be who you choose to be

I’ve given this topic a whole lot of thought throughout my life.  Here’s how I feel about it now.

I came across an old friend of mine.  She has chosen to identify herself with a country that she left when she was 5.  Now, I have no problem with this country per se, it just makes me uneasy when other people identify themselves in ways that emphasizes how they are different, especially if this difference is completely outside of anybody’s control, such as race, height, or nationality.  I believe this because this creates an invisible wall of in-group/out-group mentality in which I am clearly the out-group and makes my dealings with said person that much more difficult.  I know as Canadians we are supposed to be appreciative of each other’s differences, but isn’t Canada about building a common identity?  A common set of values in which all are included regardless of who you are or where you come from.

As an Asian immigrant to an all-white neighbourhood I quickly learned the only way to achieve any sort of social success is to quickly adapting to whatever social behavioural norm expected of all the other kids.  An insistence on one’s uniqueness based on nationality quickly banishes you to the social fringes.  (You’re different?  That’s cool we respect that.  Now go be different in that corner because the rest of us who are the same are gonna go hang out in the other corner, seeya!)  Unfortunately we human beings are herd animals who are comfortable around people who are just like ourselves but ever-so-slightly different.(This is what makes the movie Avatar works, the aliens are just bigger bluer versions of human beings, but that’s a topic for another day.)  The logical conclusion of this would be systematic bias towards everyone who is not of your kin.

I, however, hold that we can be better.  What differentiate us can be our thoughts and beliefs, our temperament and our constitutions or even the gods we choose to worship.  What it should not be are the colors of our skins or the flags we are told to wave.  I know this sound elementary but so many people are unapologetically swayed by superficial and arbitrary markers I find it frustrating to explain that this is the very thing that leads to intolerance and hatred.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am quite proud of my Taiwanese heritage.  I love the country and everything about it, and consider it to be an important part of who I am.  A major difference, however, is that I understand that although all Taiwanese people have something that I also have, I need not hold them above anyone and everyone in the world.  I have come to see that at its core, there is little difference between each and every one of us human beings.  We eat, we laugh, we cry, we make friends and enemies, and we feel pain when we are hurt.  The differences in nationality are artificial, and take second place to the more important things like aspiration, philosophy, way of thinking and degree of maturity.  What differentiates us is not how we look and where we come from, it is how we think.

With that said, I’ve noticed that Turkey, like many other countries in the world, is fiercely nationalistic.  YouTube is banned because someone made a video disrespecting Atutark, founder of the Turkish Republic.  I’d like to raise the general point that patriotism everywhere has been know to be quite destructive, at times inspiring people to wage or go to war.  Yet if nations are going to be the largest effective organizational units humankinds can muster, I wonder if they can function effectively if they do not instil somehow a sense of common purpose.  That is the key difference between a failed state and a state that endures.  I will enlarge the scope here and ask is patriotism a necessary evil?

I have to come clean and say that one of the reasons I wrote this post is because this friend of mine is pretty attractive, and views Turkish people differently from others.  She goes so far as to only date Turkish men, despite their notoriously lacklustre respect for gender equality.  I have also noticed when the two of us travel together in Turkey, people always seem curious because we seem like an unlikely duo, and always seem just a bit relieved from the way they look at me when she explains to them we’re just friends.

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