WHAT DEFINES US AS PEOPLE AND AS A COMMUNITY?
By DR VICKI BISMILLA
As educators, we often gave students an assignment to trace their personal histories and identities and create some sort of visual representation of that identity.
For little children it was mostly exploring their families through photographs and they proudly brought these pictures mounted on construction paper and showed the class their parents, siblings, grandparents, etc. Older children explored more complex relationships including friends, sports groups, cultural clubs or personal interests like books, travel, etc.
In post-secondary was where these charts became fascinatingly complex and personal identity charts intersected with community identity charts.
Tracing our own identity charts can be an absorbing exercise.
In a way, it is similar to the television shows that trace the ancestral roots of famous people who find that their great-great grandparents were unexpectedly different be it racially, linguistically or occupationally.
However, exploring our own identity is a very personal journey refereed only by ourselves.
Only we know who we are, what our affiliations are, our preferences, our interests, our philosophies.
So, who are we?
I have seen identity charts where an individual uses a Venn diagram, or a jigsaw puzzle, a pyramid, a pie-chart with different colours denoting different strands of personality, or a central circle with the name and spokes of the wheel labelled with all the different facets of who they are.
These can be name, heritage, religion, ethnicity, language, gender orientation, faith group, politics, sports, club affiliations, personal interests, etc.
But it is when we attempt to create a community chart and place our personal identities on to that larger world space that it becomes fascinating.
We see ourselves fitting into so many different communities.
We are valued members of our family, our neighbourhood, our town, our place of worship, circle of friends, club, team and so much more.
In a Venn diagram, we would see overlapping aspects of all the identities we share with other people though not all aspects of our identity will exactly match another’s.
In each spot where the diagram overlaps we belong to a different group – we might be women, teachers, basketball players, book club members, engineers, multilingual speakers, etc.
We are not one-dimensional cutouts.
This is why I find it so frightening when despotic leaders aim to claim whole countries or provinces for one particular trait of people.
No one has just one trait. A person may be white but not at all similar to another white person in identity. Or a person may be mixed race and not recognized as either.
There are places in the world where religious intolerance has caused egregious massacres – how can religion, a belief in God, be so destructive?
There are heinous people in history who committed genocides and ethnic cleansings to rid their countries of specific groups of people.
As we watch politics around the world we see more and more the politics of divisiveness.
Encouragingly, we are also seeing strong voices who oppose this kind of destructive approach to leadership.
We are seeing ordinary people come out to express loud concern about the mistreatment of people, be they homeless, economically poor, mentally ill, physically different, or groups who are fragile in many different ways.
That is true democracy.
When I was growing up I remember reading the powerful poem by Martin Niemoller, a German pastor writing about the cowardice of Germans who did not speak out against Nazi injustices.
We saw what happened due to their fascist leader and their silence.
It is worth re-reading Pastor Niemoller’s poem:
First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communistsand I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
• Dr Vicki Bismilla is a retired Superintendent of Schools and retired college Vice-President, Academic, and Chief Learning Officer. She has authored two books.
DEAR DIDI, My daughter doesn’t want to follow our “backward customs”
By KULBINDER SARAN CALDWELL
Our daughter has turned away from all things desi. No touching of elders’ feet, no joining me when I light the lamp at home in the evening. She says she’s ‘Canadian’ and doesn’t need to follow backward customs. Help me explain that gaining new customs doesn’t mean losing old ones. – FORWARD THINKING
“Desi” and “Canadian” are descriptors of one’s identity and it can be especially difficult for some to accept that one can be both simultaneously when they have been told you have to be one or the other.
The reality is that your daughter is being raised here in Canada with all the country’s cultural and societal influences around her. She may not know the significance of touching of elders’ feet or lighting the lamp at home in the evening. Tell her about what you used to do as a child and how these rituals made you feel and why you do it today. What was your relationship with your elders? Which were the customs you weren’t so keen on and didn’t adopt here in Canada?
You are right that you shouldn’t gain new customs at the cost of losing old ones; however, as we evolve and move forward as a community we aren’t going to take all our customs with us. We will pick and choose what works for us and our family. They may also change and morph into a hybrid with another tradition or custom. It is important to determine which ones will allow your Canadian-born child some sense of belonging and attachment to the culture. Maybe she doesn’t want to hug and touch the feet of the elders because they are in her personal space and she’s not comfortable with the situation or the people. As our children grow older they have a mind of their own and sometimes they question customs that don’t fit their values or belief system.
I know that I followed some traditions when I was a child just because it was something I was taught. However, if my children ask me about it, it’s not good enough to just say because my mother and father did so. If I want them to understand and take on these customs, to make them their own, they need to understand the significance and want to do them even when I’m not there. I know it is scary when things change but they are also changing and evolving back in the old countries so better to stay current than trying to live in a time warp which doesn’t serve anyone.
Embrace the new and improved customs whichever form they take because after all, the children are our future.
If it’s important to you to have some culture infused in your kids’ lives, welcome change with open arms!
I may be able to help! Is there something that you wish you could talk to someone about? Email me at Kul@DearDidi.com or follow me on Twitter and Facebook at @DearDidi_KSC. Check out my blog on DearDidi.com, subscribe to become part of the community and keep up to date with all the events. Hope to hear from you soon!
“Behold, I make all things new!”
By REVEREND TONY ZEKVELD
As we turn the page into another year, we are conscious of the passing of time. We live seventy years and if we have the strength, eighty years.
Our years are often filled with sorrow and trouble. Our yearly resolutions fail in moments of weakness.
We still live in a broken world marked by hatred, discrimination, violence and war. We live in a world of broken promises.
Will there be anything ‘new’ in the year 2019, we ask, outside of new outbreaks of trouble in what seems like a world under collapse?
In the midst of the wreckage of time, Jesus, the true and living God, says, “Behold, I make all things new!” The One through whom all things were made has given this sure promise to all who place their trust and hope in Him.
He will make all things new, including this earth, when He returns. God Himself will make this world into a temple again. Listen to the beautiful promise: “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” This is not wishful thinking. This is not just another list of broken promises to come. He says, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” This is the sure hope of all who trust in Him! He keeps all His promises.
What does His promise have to do with the year 2019? There is reason to be optimistic. Better days are coming for people of all nations who trust Him as their Savior and King! The world is in His hands; not in the hands of man, whether climate alarmists or world leaders.
But there is more to this promise, for the here and now, for the year 2019.
He who says, “I make all things new” has already conquered sin, Satan and death through His death and resurrection from the dead. Practically this has many implications. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”
He is talking about today. By our bowing to Christ, He already begins to make all things new for us, beginning in our hearts.
Hope replaces fear; peace replaces strife and violence; forgiveness and love replace hatred.
This flows into our lives, into our families and into the streets. The promise of the future begins to take effect now!
• Reverend Tony Zekveld can be reached at 416-740-0543 and tzekveld@primus,ca.