Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Identity, Labels and the Search for No Self

Someone was telling me about how their new psychologist talked to their kid. She asked him how he identifies himself. The child didn't know what the psychologist was talking about so she asked him what race he identified himself with.
I marveled at our obsession, here in the U.S,. to create an identity for one's self. I once read that it has to do with the evolution of the economy. If you live in a society where most people are getting enough food and shelter, the only way to get them to spend more and stimulate the economy is to create an economy of identity. People who identify themselves as Star Wars lovers will buy more Star Wars toys. Those who identify themselves as dog lovers, will buy more dog paraphernalia and so on and so forth. In fact, marketing experts specifically count on us to have an identity. They create demographics such as "working mom over the age of 40" and make ads geared specifically to that.

There has been so much talk of identity lately and its seeped into our politics. I wonder if it is a subconscious reaction to all of the identity based marketing that has been geared to us and all the child pscyologists who have insisted that children figure out what they identify with. 

We are almost forgetting that there is more to life than having an identity. The Buddhists spend their lives practicing what is known as the art of "no self." Their whole philopshy is based on relinquishing identity. I onced asked a friend of mine who is a Buddhist monk why Buddhists don't believe in identity or a self and he said that believing in this holds us back. Having a self puts boundaries on what we could learn or what more we could be. You can't be enlightened if you are attached to the notion of having to find a self. I always marvel at how Buddhism became the "religion of no religion," and even if I studied Buddhism extensively, I could never call myself a Buddhist because to do so would be to identify with something. This just goes to show how difficult it is to relinquish one's identity. Famous motivational speaker Anthony Robbins is always talking about how you have to change your identity. He says that if you see yourself as a helpless victim, you always will be. 

Beyond that, I can't help thinking that there is so much more to us than our demographic. I'm not just a working mother over the age of forty. I'm more than a writer. I'm more than my hobbies, my political or cultural affiliations etc. The other day, I was looking through my social networking stream and thought, There are an awful lot of memes and posts that are anti something or another. I've seen posts that are anti Israel, anti Palestine, anti liberal, anti conservative, anti Clinton, anti Trump, anti religion, anti atheist, anti science, etc. etc. These anti statements tend to come with very generalizing and often fallacious stereotypes.

In the 70s there was a huge anti disco movement on the part of those who loved heavy metal. It became cool to identify with heavy metal but only if you hated on disco. Lord forbid someone loved both styes of music. It became very apparent to me that finding one's identity can be dangerously polarizing. If I am this way, I am separate from anyone who isn't this way as well. We box ourselves into our own little groups and push away those who "don't get it." 

We see this in the publishing business as well. You're book must identify with a genre because we have to make sure that the public is getting what they want. All romances must have a happy ending. Lord forbid we surprise anyone and make them question their identity. Screw all the great artists and writers who thought this was the goal of literature and art. In our effort to categorize our literature, we have suppressed people from writing something truly original. 

We forget that most spiritual philosophies think that the highest state of awareness is to connect, not to polarized, to love, not to hate. Finding one's identity is an act of desperation, a way of finding a place to belong in a lonely world. But the search for no self, is an act of pure humility. It also takes courage to let go of the security that clinging to an identity can have. As I have demonstrated in my novel, "The Enlightened Ones," sometimes we wake up and realize that everything we have clung to was wrong. Our identities give us a sense of security, but often its a false sense of security, one we're willing to kill for. This is why the art of no self takes courage. It means that we have to look outside of who we think we are and see who we really are. It means we have to shatter down the walls of our own perception and accept the fact that we could be wrong. It might even mean relinquishing the stubbornness of war for the humility of peace. 

The other day, a friend of mine posted the song "Imagine" by John Lennon. He wrote something about how more veterans agree with the song than we may care to think. In the song, John Lennon sings, Imagine there's no countries, religion, possessions, etc. He said there would be nothing to fight for, nothing to live or die for, nothing to hunger for etc. Some might listen to this song and think that Lennon is being intolorent of religion or patriotism. Perhaps he's putting down our materialistic economy. But perhaps what my friend was hinting at was that after being in a war and watching people fight and kill over their country, religion, stuff, or identity, you realize how silly it all was in the end. You wonder how important it was for us to cling to an identity as if any threat to it is worth killing for. Is it really worth killing for? How important is identity, really? I will have to ask my friend to elaborate.

So what if we do stop identifying? What if we put our strong held beliefs aside and say, I'll listen because I'm not so scared that what you have to say will change me. What if we embrace other groups and cultures? What if we stop trying to find a national cultural identity and instead ask ourselves what is the best choice for all of the country in today's ever changing world? Wouldn't that open us up to more solutions and resources? What if we stepped back and started accepting everyone, not just those who we identify with? What if we saw all life as equally important? It would shatter our shields. It would make us stop fighting for what is best for us and start sharing with others. It would evolve us from being two year olds in the "mine" stage to being something truly transcendent. 

Of course, many have told me that they're not ready for that kind of higher thinking. John Lennon said, "you may say I'm a dreamer." Many would say that he is because he did have a lot of material possessions and he wasn't exactly the best father. We're all hypocrites. We're all flawed, and we have to accept that and question ourselves always. Sometimes we just have to remind ourselves that there's so much more to the universe than our identity.

So, I'll leave with this thought. Why is it that the greatest love stories consist of lovers who fall in love with someone who's supposed to be an enemy or someone from the other side of the tracks? Perhaps something deep inside us does want to transcend above the boundaries of our identity or we wouldn't love these stories. Although we are so obsessed with finding our identity, there may just be something else deep within us that wishes to seek love somewhere beyond it. Perhaps all of this seeking to belong has just made us feel more trapped by the conventions of such belonging.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Why Discrimination is a Big Deal

When I was attending a conservatory in New York, I was so busy working to pay my way through school that I barely had time to socialize. I also lived an hour and a half away from the city, but one day, my roommates and I decided to join the regulars at their regular bar. 
It didn't really work out because they wouldn't serve my two roommates. There were all kinds of issues, but in the end, we concluded that it was because they were black. I left with them but everyone else stayed. Our other white roommate didn't see what the big deal was. She said it was the only chance she had to hang out with them. That was more important to her. I understand that discrimination isn't as important of an issue to some as it is for me but the thought of patronizing that bar sickened me.

When I worked as an office manager at a recruiting firm, I remember recruiter's straight say to me, "my client won't hire that person because he doesn't like blacks or middle easterners." This happened often. Even though it goes against the 14th amendment, it still happened and no one batted an eye. Yet, being one of those people who despise racism, I held my tongue and took my anger out on a log of "office racism" which is stored in some floppy drive somewhere. I don't work there anymore. I may post this log one day, if I ever get to finding it.

Recently, the issue of race relations, discrimination against women and negative stereotyping against Latin American and Muslim immigrants and even any immigrant not of European decent has been brought up. There have also been a handful of bloggers who have said, "what's the big deal? Its not that bad." I've heard this many times in my life from people who have accepted that discrimination is a fact of life. There are always those who will try to segregate, insult and keep down anyone who is different. So what's wrong with me? I had to look at myself and ask, "am I wrong to think that discrimination is wrong? Is it a big deal?"

I'm reminded of a passage I once read in Ghandi's autobiography where he was segregated from being able to ride in the nicer part of a ship because he was dark skinned. This was when he was in South Africa. He was so appalled by this and ended up doing a lot of work in South Africa to help end segregation. However, the first reaction his friends had was, "its okay. That's the way things are here. Its their culture. What's the big deal?" Still, Ghandi didn't back down. He started huge social movements to end inequality and is credited with freeing India from England without having to go into war. 

When Rosa Parks refused to sit in the colored part of the bus because she was black, everyone kept telling her, "What's the big deal? Why don't you just accept your place and sit where you belong?" The thing is, sometimes it is a big deal. There will always be a tipping point where people who are oppressed just because they look different will rise up. History has proven this time and again. Had Martin Luther King Jr. not started a civil rights movement, very similar to what he learned from Ghandi, a civil war between blacks and whites in the United States was eminent. Already, riots were breaking out all over the country over civil rights and the war. Members of other black organizations such as The Black Panthers were gearing up for all out war. White supremacists such as the KKK were doing the same thing from their side. But MLK's movement, like Ghandi's movement  managed to overturn segregation without starting a civil war which would have devastated this nation.

Yet, what if civil war didn't break out? Overtime creating a culture of hate towards a particular race, whether they rise up or not will lead to no peace. Look at the Holocaust and the atrocities enacted by German Nazis when Hitler declared that the Jews were no good. He appealed to the country's suspicions against the religious minority who immigrated to Germany, looking for peace. This focus on hating who is different lead to a great war to wipe out Jews and anyone who was "not like them." The most destructive and horrific  world war in history got started because a man who's slogan was "Make Germany great again" decided to lead a country by focusing on people's natural fear and hatred of those who were different.

When the founding fathers of this country decided to withdraw from English rule, they wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The founding fathers made equality and fairness the main function of our government and ingeniously set it up in order to make America safe from laws and leaders that would pass laws which favor inequality.

The sad thing is that many laws that go against this fairness and against our very Bill of Rights and Constitution have been voted in by the people. This is no surprise as discrimination is not uncommon. If it weren't part of human nature, it wouldn't exist but over time, many of these laws have been shut down by the supreme court due to them being unconstitutional and dangerous to everyone's equal right to the pursuit of happiness. 

One of these laws was the search and seizure law which was passed in New York after 9/11, making it okay to do random searches on anyone without a warrant. While some people felt the law kept them safe, what it did was target innocent Blacks and Latinos. 
Also, this law goes against the sixth article of the our county's Bill of Rights:
The right of the People to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. 

Eventually, the law was put down by the courts, but this didn't stop Donald Trump for stating that this law is what we need to enforce on the inner cities when asked, during the debate, how he would improve race relations. Already, relations with cops in the inner cities are mired due to unreasonable searches and excessive force. Riots and shootings have already broken out because of it. How would passing this law, which goes against our bill of rights and constitution, help create peace? It would only increase the civil unrest that is already happening. It's a discriminatory law that will hurt this country. 

When I moved this country, I was put in public schools or the first time. I was in Catholic school up until then. I was very surprised to learn that there were other religions and I was honored to go to school with people who shared different cultures. I had so many questions for the Jews, Muslims, Protestants etc. I was open and wanted to learn. I made friends with people of many religion and ethnic diversities. My parents are not white but they are citizens of this country and are college educated. My father is a true American who always talks about and believes in the precepts of this country. He carries a pocket copy of the constitution with him at all times. Both my parents pay their taxes and have been very active in their community as I have as well. 

When I read blogs from people and read tweets by Donald Trump saying things like ALL immigrants are morally debase, rapists, criminals or whore out their daughters, I'm appalled. My Dad didn't even let me date till I was eighteen. People always say, "oh no, I wasn't talking about you." But they were. I'm an immigrant and they said ALL immigrants. 

Trump has tweeted that most criminals are Black or Hispanic. This is not true. I have so many good friends who are black and Latino who have never broken the law. I know people who are not black and Latino that have been in jail for criminal activity. Similarly, there are many blacks and Latinos who have been falsely put in jail just because of the color of their skin. Can we please look past our superficial need to profile and stereotype people and give everyone their constitutional right to pursue life, liberty and happiness and to remain innocent until proven guilty?

To quote the constitution:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

I know that discrimination is popular, that many laws have been voted in by the people that do discriminate. The Gay Marriage law is one of them and I spoke out against the law. In fact, after I released my blog opposing the law (which also got me kicked off Facebook) it was taken to court and deemed unconstitutional. You can read the blog here:

Why Same Sex Marriage is a Civil Right

By speaking out, I'm protecting my little utopia. I live in a city where people of all ethnicity's get along. I'm often invited to events in other churches, temples and mosques. I once had a cab driver tell me how weird and wonderful it is that he is best friends with someone who should be his enemy if he were back in his old country. When people speak foul towards gays, women, immigrants, blacks or other religions, they're speaking foul about my friends and family. Such talk spews hate, hurt feelings, thoughts of war and violence where there was once love, openness and solidarity. 

Discrimination is a big deal, because war and hatred is a big deal. Preventing laws that go against our inalienable rights is our way of keeping peace in our world before things get out of hand.