In a few short months both Republicans and Democrats are going to flock to Cleveland and Philadelphia, respectively, to nominate or celebrate their candidate for the US presidency.
I use the political parties as an over-arching example because of their timely relevance, as well as the demographic diversity of Americans that are labeled as either republicans or democrats.
Further, political parties so clearly exemplify the inherent nature of Americans: to be chopped, boiled, strained, stirred, poured, and then served on a plate to hungry society.
Beginning in middle school when schools have team sports, math clubs, and choir, the American is slowly, but surely, developing roots of identity from which he or she will stem for the rest of their lives. According to Erik Erikson’s psychosocial development theory, this foundation that occurs during adolescence, between the ages of approximately 12 to 18, helps develop a sense of self and personal identity. During this stage, adolescents explore their independence and develop a sense of self.
A sense of self is more of your personal connotation, while your identity is the dictionary definition of who you are.
The problem with our construct (‘our’ being society and all of us who acquiesce, and participate in it) is that there is no representation for the sense of self that we self-conceive—very seldom will your conception of yourself matches how you are perceived.
Because of categories and generalizations (vague terms when regarding American society, categories and generalizations can be as general as gender, socioeconomic classification, and college major) the single being is unable to be truly different in his or her sense of self, and will most likely be clumped together and thrown into a pot with individuals holding a myriad of different ideologies, but existing under one label. Imagine a carrot, potato, cauliflower, and steak being stripped of their properties and flavors and being deemed a simple ‘stew.’
The misconstrued definitions and refined labels limit the way one member of society can perceive the other. This limitation is the core of hate, division, and bigotry. All members are unable to identify with or even accept others outside of their societally-constructed category without a detailed conversation or personal experience with each other. And so, Americans are taught to tolerate—even the most benevolent parent, teacher, and pastor will say “you can not understand them, but they are entitled to everything that you are, so tolerate them.”
The notion of tolerance is, by definition, apathetic and self-interested. Once your self is more or less established, you are to be comfortable—no—be aware that people not akin to you exist. It is the idea of toleration and singularity that I protest, because individualism is not conducive to a whole, just, or even functioning society. I protest any roof that provides shelter to being satisfied with acknowledgement of differences. To progress, socially and economically, id est to increase the American quality of life, we must learn about each other and study each other, just to attempt to understand our collective content.
If the American sees him or herself as an American first, then we are able to move forward with a unified goal. This progress is not political, it is human and can be applied to a family, friend group, club, or sports team. Everyone acknowledges differences, but to comprehend them and bask in them, from both sides, will distinguish a functional and dysfunctional society.
Senator Corey Booker, from New Jersey, was interviewed on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah. He said, “If you breakdown what patriotism means, it means love of country. To love your country, you’ve got to love your countryman and woman—you’ve got to love everyone. And love seems like a soft word, but I preach against tolerance because that’s held up as some kind of ideal in this country that we tolerate each other, but that’s a cynical state of being. It says, ‘if you disappear from the face of the earth I’m no better or worse off.’ Love says ‘I recognize that you have value and worth and I need you.’ And so there’s an old saying that says, ‘if you want to go fast go alone, but if you want to go far go together. We are a nation that has to recognize that we need each other to go far.”
As a school, state, country, et cetera, we have an obligation to fulfill the twenty-first century social contract: to understand each other and our distinctions and then love each other for said distinctions.
I am aware of the idealism of such a state, and I perhaps may be falling victim to the unrealistic expectations of hard-line progressives that I so frequently scorn, but I think that such a society has to start with a generation, and so, why not this one? I have abandoned cynicism after a revelation provided to me by Senator Booker, “cynicism is a refuge for cowards—people who want to say that ‘I can’t make any difference, so I don’t want to get involved’.”
The sense of self (and inevitably, identity) is the topic of discussion that has recently made its way, and undoubtedly will continue to make its way, into conversations, academic disciplines, and then public policy.
The evolution of “knowing and loving yourself” has made its way from being a means to mental health, to a politicized argument that is outgrowing its boundaries faster than policy is reacting to it, and in turn, faster than the general population is being educated.
Education, in the form of experience and awareness, is what will inhibit or catalyze a progress that can satisfy all parties. When Americans no longer see red or blue, but a possibility for quality of life better than that of the prior generation, politics will be redefined by collaboration, and all parties will benefit.
It will come down to a generation moving in unison, and I no longer see why that could not be us. Taken out of context, Baba Dioum preached, “We will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” To preserve what we have and then build something better, we first must know what we are.