Otherness and Sameness

When we were in school one of the most assigned topics for essay was Unity in Diversity. We prepared hard for this by finding out many examples from India to demonstrate this. We were proud of living in a country where people of such diversity could co-exist, and celebrated this diversity. We also sang with fervour a school song in Hindi that proclaimed that all people of Hind were one, even though there were many colours and features, attires and languages. Hind desh ke nivasi, sabhi jan ek hai, Rang, roop, vesh-bhasha chahe anek hai.

 My heart breaks today, day after day, to read about a country and a world where it is this very diversity that is broken into identity fragments that divide rather than unite; a world that is increasingly emphasising the ‘otherness’ to create chasms, rather than the ‘sameness’ that builds bridges.

This sentiment is beautifully expressed by Maria Popova:

“Where Walt Whitman once invited us to celebrate the glorious multitudes we each contain and to welcome the wonder that comes from discovering one another’s multitudes afresh, we now cling to our identity-fragments, using them as badges and badgering artillery in confronting the templated identity-fragments of others.”

And then, this past month there was a ray of hope in the World Cup with the multi-ethnic compositions of many of the teams, and much was written about how the not-so-long ago ‘outsiders’ had become integral parts of National teams. This was best demonstrated by the multicultural French team that lifted the Cup…where the Otherness was transcended by the Sameness.

“You gave me blue and I gave you yellow

Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you

What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater than the difference.” (Alberto Rios)

Yes it can happen, and yes there is hope, even in these strange and uncertain times, as Barack Obama said in his centennial memorial lecture to Nelson Mandela, and reminding us of his words: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.”