Last week, at the end of a post, I suggested that the question: What five things about you most contribute to your self-identity? would be far more useful in ensuring diversity than the pat and pre-determined ethnic-racial classifications used today. I promised to make an effort to answer that question myself, so here goes, in no particular order.
**First, a disclaimer: I have no intention to judge others in what follows, but merely to state things from my own perspective, listing and explaining what goes into making me, me.**
1) Being a secular Jew in America. I identify with the culture of Judaism, which should be evident in some of what follows. But, I confess that part of being a Jew in America is not being a Christian. It is being a hidden minority, suffering through near constant reminders that I am not a part of the dominant culture of my society. Everytime some stranger wishes me "Merry Christmas" of "Happy Easter" their assumption that I am Christian like them is a jab to the ribs, an unintended finger pointed in my face, shouting, "Damn it, you don't belong here! You're not one of us, don't you understand that?" It were as if a public holiday celebrated the joys of being white, and no one suspected that I was merely passing for white. No, I realize, those are not the intentions of members of the dominant Christian culture. There is no explicit desire for the most part to render non-Christians an underclass. But the reminders are there in so much of our lives, St. Valentine's day, All Hollow's Eve... even if these celebrations bear the indelible mark of being coopted from pre-existing Pagan ritual, they are not part of the culture I identify with.
2) A belief that I am responsible to make the world a better place. In Jewish culture, there is the principle of tikkun olam ("heal the world"). It is a duty, a responsibility. If the world suffers, I suffer. I have a deep-seated empathy for the suffering of others. Sometimes, this empathy is debilitating. I have to steel myself against that, for I realize my power in the world is limited. I can not stop tsunamis and earthquakes; I can not hold inflamed radicals or headstrong politicians in my arms, and through sheer force of will, convince them that killing is no solution. But this is a responsibility I take seriously, which plays a role in every major life decision I make.
3) Self-reliance. I pride myself on being able to take care of most of my needs, and those of my family. Some ways this is silly, but I prefer to cook my pasta sauce and make my salad dressings from scratch, because I can. There are times that I have come to accept it makes more sense to have others do things for me, if they are better trained, or better equipped to accomplish a task than I. But I feel it is always a choice. I have worked hard to obtain a degree of financial freedom, because self-reliance dictates that we have the freedom to make radically different choices at just about any time. Not being tied down by debt is one of the most important factors permitting this.
4) A strong appreciation for the difference between knowledge and belief. I hold equal disdain for true believers of any stripe, whether they worship a god, or money, or beauty, or the "scientific method," or evolution. By true believers I mean anyone who thinks all questions have already been answered, who refer to whatever it is they believe in as the fount of all knowledge. There is nothing wrong with belief. In itself, belief is neutral. What we do with that belief is what makes it beneficial or dangerous.
5) A love for words and languages. This may seem out of place in the context of the other four. But, it is a major factor in my self-identity. I recognize that language is perhaps the most powerful tool that distinguishes humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom. I honestly believe that all languages are exquisitely gorgeous.