Thursday, October 2, 2008

Seperation of Identity and Self

First I must apologize for not posting earlier since I have been on vacation spending the Eid Holidays with my parents in Jordan. On this occasion, I would like to extend Eid greetings to all hoping that the Almighty grants everyone the strength and health to enjoy many more Ramadans and subsequent Eids with their loved ones and family. For my family it was great as all my siblings and I were gathered under our parent’s roof for two consecutive days. This has not happened for an extremely long time.

The subject of this post is derived from an earlier conversation with my brother. For background, I had visited my brother, who lives and works in the Cleveland, Ohio within the United States. As this was my first visit to him ever since he had gotten married, my brother was excited and proud to show me the city he works in. Having not been to the United States for over 6 years (my last visit was the summer of 2002), and being indulged/engaged in the modernity and sophistication of Dubai, I was critical. Please allow me to elaborate.
In the 70s and 80s, the Middle East region was 3rd world. Its infrastructure was retarded and had not evolved for a long time. Thus, the standard of excellence was the Western world (mainly the United States). The Arabs viewed the Western world with admiration as its standards of living and the amenities it offered far exceeding those of the Arab world. However, the equation has changed where the Arab world, and especially the Gulf countries, utilized their petro-dollars to develop their cities’ infrastructure and facilities. In addition, a new educated generation emerged who helped develop their countries even further. With urban planners having healthy financial budgets and an almost blank slate to work with, the foundations of development in these cities utilized the most advanced developments and technology to really built up top-notch facilities and buildings. Thus, Arab cities became modern and highly advanced cities. With these modern cities came modern facilities and services. Thus, we Arabs have become lucky to enjoy a high standard of living in our cities and have become used to it, and we caught up to the United States and exceeded it in some aspects. At least this happened in Dubai and was the basis of my critical appraisal of Cleveland.

However, my brother took my critical viewpoint of Cleveland as if he was responsible and that was the source of his irritation. I did not understand that. Now, I get to the subject of this post. It seems that it is part of human nature to identify with the city that you are currently residing in. It becomes a part of your identity and who you are. A person can carry many identifications; his own personality, his religion, his citizenship, his family, and his company. Sometimes, that identification becomes so blurred whereas a person criticizes something that one identifies with and that second person feels as if the criticism is directed towards him. Thus, the person becomes defensive.

I have two thoughts on that and I do not know which one is more appropriate. On the one hand, everyone has a natural tendency to have a sense of belonging. After all, human beings are social animals and need a sense of belonging to have a sense of purpose in their lives. They might try to alleviate the perceived shortcomings of their society via directly or indirectly discussing it and trying to change it for the better. They also proudly attach themselves to the success of their community/society although they might not have contributed any part in it. For example, a city baseball team wins the World Series and you are smiling and proud of it although you do not follow baseball at all. It is an interesting phenomenon.

However, the other side of the coin is that people must learn to detach themselves emotionally from things they identify with. For instance, my brother is not the mayor of Cleveland nor is he working as a city official. Thus, if anyone critiques an aspect of the city, my brother can agree with it or disagree. However in the grand scheme of things, it is about acceptance of others’ opinions without necessarily agreeing with them on the subject.

To be able to separate one emotionally from issues and not take them personally is one way for the whole world to get along. Although it is extremely difficult, it is an ideal that we should all strive to do. It would make the world a happier, more splendid place to live in. Do you not agree?

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