We are labeled or we label ourselves:
Visible Minority Millennial Conservative
Women Addict Urban
Man Asian Poor
LGBTQ Conservative Handicapped
Old White Guy Unemployed Canadian
Boomer Progressive Fat
Indigenous Artist Middle-Class
The list of identities can go on forever. These labels give us a sense of belonging, a sense of injustice, a sense of our place in the world, a sense of what makes us different from others. Identity helps us find others like us, and because we are human, we all want to belong. We are social animals.
But these labels can, and do, move us to exclude people as much include. If I’m a low-income white male who has been told his entire life that he can work hard, go to school or get a trade, I’ll get a family, home, vacation, car, and retire comfortably. When that doesn’t happen, I can feel cheated and look for someone to blame. If I am an indigenous woman who has been told that I’m a drunk, worthless, have heard the stories of my parents taken to residential school against the will of my grandparents, had traditional land stolen and destroyed, then I can feel angry with the colonials who own everything and exclude me.
If I am an immigrant from India who worked hard to bring my family with me, who saved, and studied, struggled, and finally got to a country where I thought the opportunities were greater for my children, landed a job, can feel proud. But then had my child comes home crying because another child called my child a terrorist while the teacher looked on and did nothing, then I justifiably feel I am not welcome and not wanted. If I am a woman who sees a man raised to highest office for life despite credible allegations of sexual assault or I make less than a man with the same job then, I will rightly feel the world is unjust and that patriarchy is an unspoken law.
Yet despite these real and justified grievances we try to work together, difficult as it is, to achieve greater goals. Government is the greatest example of this. We vote and chose the party or individual to represent our interests at the tables where laws are created, and decisions on where to spend our collective taxes are made. Education, health care, infrastructure, social services, fire and police, environment, zoning, natural resources, business, and a host of other decisions on an infinite list of areas. In principle, these are a collective effort for the collective good done within the framework of institutions.
Institutions are defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ” An organization founded for a religious, educational, professional, or social purpose.”. So courts, governments, business associations, non-profits, foundations, universities and colleges, cooperatives, all fall into this category of institutions.
But if the institution is organized and led by someone who’s identity does not recognize mine then we have a severe crisis of belief in the goals of institutions. If they don’t recognize the inequalities in my life or my interests, then are they a credible institution? Many religious organizations felt the anger of indigenous communities for their participation in the nightmare of the residential schools. Many left-leaning individuals see the conservative parties as institutions that enrich the wealthy while encouraging a lack of tolerance. Many conservatives feel the left is spending our children inheritance at the cost of paying for wastefulness now.
Our identity clashes with the needs of the greater whole within the framework of institutions.
We often do not have the faith necessary in the leadership of these institutions to moderate our disbelief in the goals they set. So we oppose or disengage. There may be a good historical reason for this, but we have to ask what form of justice or what form of reconciliation is needed to strengthen the institutions that help individuals arrive at a collective action that strengthens, rather than divides us collectively? Is this even possible given the justifiable level of cynicism many populations around the world have? And if it is possible who is credible enough to begin this process?
I want to write “yet despite this I believe we can….” but I’m not sure I can say that right now. I am not convinced that we can come together and reconcile these differences. I friend told me he believed the only thing that could reconcile us was an existential threat so great that it threatened the entire planet. But I’m not sure this is even the case.
Today I read in the New Yorker Magazine about a United Nations climate report saying that “Ten million more people would be exposed to permanent inundation ( flooding), and several hundred million more to “climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty.” Malaria and dengue fever will be more widespread, and crops like maize, rice, and wheat will have smaller and smaller yields—particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. Security and economic growth will be that much more imperilled. “. All of this because the governments of the world could not collaborate to ensure global warming stays under 2 degrees Celsius this century, despite the global catastrophic results. The individual needs of counties could not be reconciled to the collective good of the global community.
I am sure you, as do I, find all of this heavy to think about and very depressing to dwell on yet, as I said in the previous posting, you have to understand where you are to see where can go. And where we are is complex and changes in the space of moments. Where we are is as individual effects the collective, and all this leaves the mechanism of action, our institutions, unable to meet our needs. So do our institutions need reform or do we as individuals need to reform ourselves first? I’m not sure. But we have to chose because the consequences have left us frozen in inaction in a moment of crisis.
In the next post I will talk about religion and business