So Who Are We?
Susan P. BlevinsIt’s not that I want to be smart-alecky, but when people ask me to tell them who I am, where I’m from, and what I do, all I want to do is reply, “I’m a member of the human race and a citizen of the world.” I’ve tried that a few times but it really didn’t go down well.
What I do not like is how we are always dividing ourselves into smaller and smaller groups, and sects: where I was born, my race, my gender, my religion, my education, my job. It’s like people want to create a caste system that rivals that of India. Perhaps we call it a class system rather than a caste system. We are all guilty of this to some extent, because we rush to judgement of others, desiring to identify their exact niche in society.
Patriotic jingoism gets us into wars. Flag waving stirs up the masses, and we send young men and women off to war to die. To die for what? An abstract concept? Most of the time war is not justified because there is no direct threat. That was not the case in WWII, when Hitler seriously planned to invade England. We (yes, I am British) had to fight that war to defend our shores from an aggressive enemy. War these days, however, has moved into a more cynical phase, conducted mostly for raw materials and power in distant regions of the world, whatever the rhetoric spouting from politicians’ mouths justifying their aggression.
We are not our nationality.
As for gender, well, speaking as a woman, there is still way too much discrimination against us in the workplace, and in society’s eyes in general. Why are women not receiving the same pay for the same job as men? I fail to understand that, other than to surmise that it is the ongoing result of the patriarchal society in which we still live. Things are improving, but men are slow to relinquish a power they feel they have over women through money. My own father used money to try and manipulate me into submission. Without success, I must add. Here too, can’t we just say we are human beings wearing different “suits of clothing”, some female bodies, others male? For those who believe in reincarnation, we all know that we wear both genders throughout the multiple lifetimes of our existence. In the same way, the color of our skin may change from incarnation to incarnation, so black, brown, yellow, or white skin should not count for beans. During the early years of my marriage I was always known as “Merrill Blevins’s wife”. It wasn’t until a few years later, when I had a weekly column in the English language newspaper published in Rome, that my name became known among the ex-pat community, and my husband began to be referred to as “Susan Blevins’s husband.” This was a huge threshold for me and did a great deal for my self identity.
We are not not our gender or our color.
We won’t even talk about religious identity because that is incendiary, not only between different faiths, but also within each faith itself. Look at the amazing number of different sects in Christianity. The multiple faces of Judaism. The factions within Islam. Why can it never be acknowledged that there are as many paths to the divine as there are people walking this earth? If people want to believe in a higher power, it is their right and prerogative to pursue the faith of their choice without interference from others, and likewise without interfering with the faith of others. And some people choose no religion at all, and that is their choice and none of anybody else’s business. With what right do we presumptuously declare that our religion is better than all the others?
We are not our religion.
I put education in this list, because growing up in England, one of the ways people could categorize you, was to ask you where you went to school. Was it a private school, a grammar school (public school in the USA), or a public school, (which in England is the ritzy version of private school in the USA, such as Eton, Harrow, Winchester, or Roedean if you’re a girl). It is a great advantage in life to have a good education, and one to which I feel everyone is entitled, but education does not make a man who he is, does not modify his basic instincts to be honest or dishonest, upstanding or devious, generous or stingy. In other words, education will not change a man or woman’s intrinsic nature, though I do believe that education can often bring the gift of historical perspective, and thus a degree of wisdom.
We are not our education.
Employment is usually evaluated on the materialistic basis of how much money a person earns, or whether it is a white-collar or blue-collar job, high-powered executive or manual laborer. The interrogator ferrets out as much information as possible, in order to pop his victim into the appropriate drawer of an immensely tall dresser, for later reference, perhaps as a useful contact for climbing the corporate ladder, perhaps as a suitable candidate for an upwardly aspiring son or daughter. Rarely do they ask if the job is a pleasure or a burden. Some people have to do a job they hate in order to pay the bills and take responsibility for their family. The lucky few earn a living doing something they love, spending their work days following their passion.
But, we are not our jobs.
In England they ask one more question in the initial social interrogation, “What does your father do?” Yet again, this attitude goes to show that society there still tends to be patriarchal. Or, God forbid they should put you in a drawer above your station. We even use the term in England, “He/she doesn’t know his/her place.” Or we are “put in our place” by those usually wishing to take us down a peg or two.
We are not our fathers.
I find this whole ritual backward and thoughtless. Each generation falls into the trap because the previous one had the same standards. That is why the world is still in the mess it has always been in, perhaps even more so today because the weapons are more lethal and the communications more rapid. We shall only ever achieve a workable peace on earth, which must surely be every people’s desire, wherever they live, when we acknowledge the basic humanity of each human being and their universal and inherent right to dignity and well-being, and acknowledge that what we do to others we do to ourselves. It is as old as the history of the world to deny full humanity to those not like us. But we are each one of us a single cell in the giant being called humanity, we are all connected. There is no “other” out there, they are us and we are them. Love is the glue that holds us all together, and the sooner we can embrace this as fact, the sooner we can achieve heaven on earth. If we, as individuals, fail to embrace the dark side of ourselves, our “Shadow” side, we project it onto “others”, just as the Germans projected their Shadow onto the Jews in the early 20th century, and the USA projected their Shadow onto the Russians in the 1980’s. Now the collective Shadow is being projected onto the refugees, the Muslims and the Mexicans. It is imperative we embrace our own potential for darkness and take responsibility for what goes on in the outer world, knowing that it reflects what is always a possibility in our own psyches.
It is up to each single one of us to redefine and renew ourselves in broader terms, in more inclusive terms, and be done with racism, bigotry, misogyny, sexism and fear. Fear is the opposite of love, not hatred, and is the root of most aggression and wars. The power of love is, and always has been, more powerful than fear, but rulers and politicians are not going to promote this because fear helps them to control people, and that is a tool as ancient as politics itself. All change has to start at a grass-roots level, and that means you and me, in the simplest of ways, acknowledging simply that we are all brothers and sisters, united in this sacred thing called life.
So, given these new parameters, how do we identify ourselves and others? I have always believed that a great deal about a person is revealed in the eyes, the ‘mirror of the soul’. So when we meet someone new, instead of the old, tired catechism, perhaps we can look at one another’s more spiritual qualities: this is a kind woman, a generous man, an honest and true person, an inclusive, compassionate and vital human being. We can approach a new encounter with an open mind and a loving heart, free of all our fears and prejudices, willing to break out of our comfort zone and be vulnerable, while we expand to the next level of our personal development.
This approach leaves us free to identify the true essence of a person, using an inner yardstick, rather than the more superficial one usually applied when assessing people. I have always resonated with the Indian greeting of “Namaste”, or “Namaskar”, which in Hindi means, I salute the divine within you. How wonderful indeed, if we too in the West could recognize the divine within each one of us, and relinquish our antiquated attachment to the outer, more shallow aspects of each other.
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