This childhood narrative keeps coming up for me and is just in time for issues surrounding Nationalism and the vote on the Brexit. When I was around 8 years old, I was eating lunch with my friends at school. There were two rows of tables against the walls and we were discussing where we came from. It was an international school in Stockholm, with representations from about 40 different countries including some exotic places. Our South-African born art teacher, Mr. T as we used to call him, overheard our conversation and said
“You want to know where I’m from? I’m from Earth”.
Right there and then in my childish existence, I understood him and the world seemed to pause. Borders were shattered and I understood us all to be part of one global entity and one precious planet.
Perhaps these words echoed and filled the void of my inner walls because of my ethnically mixed background. I don’t look the way I feel inside and thus I’m quite used to explaining this superficial paradox. It feels like a broken record, but I know exactly how to do it. If I say that I’m half Pakistani and half Finnish, I’m interrupted with “Ahhh…” before I’ve had a chance to even say the second part, which I’m sure are heard as mere whispers. Our ethnic constructs and associations impede an easy introduction. To aid the process, the trick is to first say that you are half Finnish… .Now pause a little, but not too awkwardly and let that sink in. Perhaps watch them a little as they try to reconcile what they expect a Finnish person to look like. Let it torture their minds. And then say that you have a father from Pakistan. Now hope they get it.
I grew up in Sweden and I went to school with children of many backgrounds and English was our common denominator. At home, we didn’t celebrate many cultural traditions, and if we did, they were mainly Swedish ones. On a halloween-like tradition at Easter, I dressed up as a Påsk Gumma, my cheeks rosy with paint, and I celebrated the glorious day of free treats from my neighbors. And a few times we decorated a Christmas tree. I never grew very attached to these customs and no one ever asked me to sing or to memorize the Swedish national anthem.
I am a man who has no roots, but I’m not confused. I know as well as anyone who I am. The way I see it, plants have roots, but humans roam freely. Our roots are something that we carry in our hearts, not something that is planted into the soil of one and many traditions.
We’re long past due fully reflecting on the impact that technology has on our identity, or at least the associative constructs of our identity. We’re all well aware of globalization and I’m a child of its resulting migrating flux, but we’re nowhere near the apex of its conclusion. We have a long way to go. Today, as I write this, Britain decided to leave the European Union not because the flux of immigration was an economic burden, and in fact it was a net positive, but because immigration threatened their national identity.
A lot of my friends feel displaced in their youth as they begin to travel and live abroad. They glorified the graphic-novelesque neo-Nomadic life of the mobile urban professional. While partly liberating, they also felt that they lost their identity and this can be a gut wrenching experience. My situation is slightly more unique and futuristic because living abroad had no impact on me or my identity because I never made that association between me and the place I was born. And that is the place where we are all headed. Like it or not, one day or another, we’ll get there.
Technology will continue to bring us closer and closer removing the links between our livelihood and our locality as professions become more service oriented and working remotely becomes more fungible with physical presence. However, the kaleidoscope of racial colors will continue to evolve and in its future lies more diversity rather than convergent monochromaticity.
When the people of the future are asked, “To which nationality do you belong?” the answer will be, “To the nationality of humanity.” The people of the future will not say, “I belong to the nation of England, France or Persia”; for all of them will be citizens of a universal nationality—the one family, the one country, the one world of humanity—and then these wars, hatreds and strifes will pass away.
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace)
A new era of globalization is upon us and it may have begun over a hundred years ago, but even I with my diverse background, can sometimes hesitate to fully grasp its impending realm. There’s absolutely nothing anyone can do to stop it without rejecting technology and I understand that this can be terrifying to the status quo. However, I’ve recently found a renewed interest in a global community that is giving me the courage to confidently sink my roots into the soil that revolves around the sun and spins into being one global nation. I have been met by a feeling of acceptance and belonging and I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds. I’m feeling optimistic about the future and about bringing humanity closer together. Love, compassion, and kindness are for free. They cost nothing and they are freely available. One need but to look up at the common sky and into our hearts.
If you feel attached to a future that involves all of us, or if you ever felt inspired by that Star Trek ideal of intergalactic unity, let me know. Share your thoughts and your story with me and allow your roots to entwine with mine.