An interesting post from Arjun Ramakrishnan blogging at Timeless Tales:
It is difficult to live happily without a sense of belonging. First and foremost comes the family which takes care of most of our emotional needs. To love and be loved is perhaps the greatest desire of every human heart. I recall the quote, “Make yourself necessary to somebody. Do not make life hard to any” (Ralph Waldo Emerson), which in my opinion is what each of us ought to do for happiness. Our personal domain is also a very delicate one, probably because we are dealing with emotions and needs which are at once our own and yet to be had from people close to us…
Then again, our quest for belongingness doesn’t end with our family or friends. As soon as we start interacting with our immediate community and the society at large, our search for an identity also begins. I like to think these are coordinates by which we must find for ourselves a unique place in this vast planet, a place so complex and competitive. Perhaps animals are free from this trouble; they have no ego or self and they only survive, don’t live. We humans on other hand vie with each other for not only space but also recognition and individuality which naturally lead us to try to establish an identity for ourselves.
Talk of anything like culture, state, nation, religion, caste, civilization or any such divides, I am tempted to conclude they are our own attempts to give ourselves an identity, that sense of belonging to something, our raison d’être for such walls we build between ourselves. Walls not necessarily of dispute or anguish – although they have euphemized both on countless occasions over the course of our turbulent history – but most often as a means of keeping out others who have no rights to the pride, prestige and privileges of one side. It is useful to keep in mind that when one side builds a wall, two sides are automatically formed.
Identity is difficult to define precisely. It is a claim to a common history and heritage and most importantly something we identify ourselves with. In a very simple way, it is a means of choosing our friends or foes, who can be trusted or who cannot be, who might understand us better and so on. What strikes me most is that it is also vitally a security, more emotional or social than physical.
What is essentially an individual pursuit has created divisions like races, religions and castes, the bones of contention in so many bitter mass struggles and upsurges familiar to us. This is hardly ironic since every individual tends to find common causes with those who may share one or more of his/her coordinates. For instance, it is natural for a Christian Keralite to identify himself more with a Keralite in US who may be a Hindu. These associations therefore depend on the particular coordinate itself, as in a case where someone may put religion over region and everything else which is the classic case, to my understanding, that has led Samuel Huntington to proclaim his conjecture of the Clash of Civilizations.
It remains to be asked, do we pay a price for each of our identities? If my arguments above make any sense, then all the serious conflicts the humanity faces over religious freedom and fundamentalism is a fallout of our rather awkward efforts to either impose or deny identities on/to each other. Incidentally, as a direct consequence of the spread of egalitarian and liberal values and ideas and more recently the globalization and others, today the identity factor has lost many of its coordinates or even almost ceased to exist for the more broad-hearted and conscious minds among us. Many of the walls have been broken down; the world is reduced to fewer dimensions today even if it is not totally flat. And yet, as if the loss of some of the cover is threatening their safety or sense of belonging, many identify themselves more strongly than ever with things like religion and caste, invariably posing grave challenges to one and all.
I guess even unconsciously all of us stake claim to an identity unique to us, in the sense we identify ourselves with certain things. Maybe, that we do it unconsciously today is key because it implies that we get it naturally with least conflicts or exertions. There are lesser reasons today for us to be unhappy about what we are. Personally, at times, I get a strong urge to go back and unearth my roots in the hope that I may know something more of myself. Some other times, this seems outrightly absurd. Times have changed, the way people look at things have changed, it would be apt to even distance myself from some of things that have been bequeathed to me.
However, as much as I strive to give something back to all that I belong to, it is ridiculously easy to have respect and tolerance for everything else. More so because my identity is something I wish to keep personal and savor as such, my religion is, my language is, my caste is, my place is. Any hate I harbor for the rest threatens to dilute my love for what is mine. And my respect for what is not mine comes from my knowledge that they too are loved and savored by people around me and, how can I not respect love?