18 December 2011

Identity through the Eyes of the Nation

Identity through the Eyes of the Nation

            When it comes to the definition of an American Identity, I feel that there is a broad spectrum of aspects that one could use to define themselves through their country. Some base their identities on religion, while others use politics. Family background, ethnicity, and personal experiences also play a role in shaping one's identity. Family dinner conversations and skirmishes at high school are examples of events that have impacted my Identity.

            Being an American can mean many things. Some foreigners view Americans with negative stereotypes such as being overweight or obsessed with making money. Even though those stereotypes may be true, there is so much more to this identity. One ideal that many people base their identity off of is religion. For instance, some people may introduce themselves as a Christian American where as others may introduce themselves as Muslim American. Just because their religions are different doesn’t meant they are any less American.

            Another basis that people identify themselves through is how they view their government. People tend to gravitate towards a specific political party. Right-wing conservatives have much different ideals than that of left-wing liberals. Republicans may want less government involvement while Democrats invite more government involvement to make change happen. At the same time, conservatives might have stricter morals and like things the way they are while liberals are slightly more open-minded and stand by change. Again, I still find both of these groups to be equally American.

            My relatives are fairly conservative and religious. My parents, however, are the lenient ones. Even though they both grew up in very religious environments, they turned out to be pretty open-minded. My mom is Republican while my Dad is a Democrat. This lead to many ‘interesting’ discussions at the dinner table. There have been countless times when my parents would disagree on a subject and go on and on about how one was more correct than the other. I couldn’t be happier that I grew up with both sides of the spectrum because it gave me a chance to choose for myself, rather than be forced into a certain mind set.

            I remember one discussion in particular that got rather heated. A few years ago, our dinner conversation lead to the topic of American troops still occupying Iraq. Now my dad, being the Democrat that he is, immediately reverted to the point that we shouldn’t have gone to war in the first place. He claimed that the decision was made on a false premise; that, after we overthrew Saddam Hussein, it was useless to try and establish democracy. The conflict happening in the country between the Sunnis and the Shiites was that of a civil war; something we had no control over. Moreover, after the fall of Hussein, the troops didn’t protect any of their infrastructures. Our troops were ordered to guard the oil industry, which shows that Bush had a larger agenda in going to Iraq than what he claimed to begin with.

            My mom, on the other hand, disagreed. Even though she agreed halfheartedly that the initial decision was a mistake, she felt that keeping troops there was the right thing to do in order to protect the citizens. Her take on the whole affair was that Saddam Hussein needed to be stopped. She felt that the invasion of our troops was needed to stop the senseless murdering and oppression that Hussein brought on Iraqi people. She also felt that our troops stayed after the fact in order to protect the newly-freed citizens which, in her eyes, needed to happen.

            I feel that being exposed to both parties as a child was extremely beneficial. Listening to the different opinions of my parents on heated topics such as this gave me a chance to not only hear the opinions from both sides of a topic, but also learn outside of the classroom. I always loved seeing how far they would go with the discussion. It never turned into an aggressive quarrel; they simply enjoyed bouncing their opinions off each other and listening to what the other had to say. This also taught me to respect others' opinions, even if they don’t coincide with my own.

            Even when it comes to homosexuality and how people view it, I still feel that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Personally, I feel that it shouldn’t even be discussed whether or not they should receive the same rights or not. They are absolutely no different than anyone else; therefore, why on earth should they be denied any rights at all?  However, if there wasn’t room for others to hold different opinions, this would not be the United States of America. One of the most beautiful things about this country is that everyone has the right to believe and stand by what they wish, as long as they do not cause harm to others. 

            Americans are all connected in certain ways. We are all governed by a democratic system which allows us to choose what we believe and what to stand for. The great thing is that we can all choose what our identity is and what to define it through and still be just as much of an American as the next person.

            My personal identity as an American is greatly influenced by the people that have surrounded me throughout my life. Without my family and friends, I would be nowhere near the person I’ve become. The ideals that I have grown to live by have sprouted from the views of my parents, the observation of my relatives, and the friends that I have become close to.

            Personally, over the years, I have adopted very liberal views. Not totally in the political party sense, but also in a general way. I am very open-minded with different religions as well as sexual orientation. Watching the rest of my relatives speak about homosexuals as “okay but still sinners” made me very upset. I fully believe that homosexuals are absolutely no different than anyone else of heterosexual orientation. Hearing people try to take away the rights of others, particularly the right to marriage, absolutely infuriates me.

            Growing up in a small, predominantly white, rural town has its downsides.  The majority of the citizens of my home town are very conservative and narrow minded. Unfortunately, the stereotypical bullying of minorities, by sexual orientation or by race, happened fairly often. Throughout high school, I became very close with two gay males. They were some of my best friends, so, naturally, whenever I heard someone in the hallway speak against homosexuality, I wasn’t happy.

             One day, a couple of boys started to outwardly make fun of one of my friends. They would constantly make verbal attacks against him, leaving him upset and offended. So, a few days later, I decided to walk with him as he walked by this group of boys. Sure enough, they made a remark. Almost before they were done speaking the word, I walked up to them and asked them to say it again. When they wouldn’t, I asked them what they would do if I had said that to them. After none of them replied, we walked away and left them standing there. Later that day, one of the boys came up to me and apologized.  I told him that I wasn’t the one he should be apologizing to. This whole confrontation made me realize that I could never be that narrow-minded.

            If I had to choose one considerable factor that defined who I am as an American, I would choose my acceptance of others. After seeing the way my friends were treated and the way some of my relatives spoke about them made me take a step back and reinforce my stance as an ally in the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community, as well as my inclination to be open minded and tolerant of all types of people.

When I think about who I am as a person, I find it very difficult to narrow it down to a few words. There are many different parts of my life that I can use to identify myself. Only when I combine my hobbies and interests with my heritage and past experiences am I really able to effectively show who I am.

            I have a semi-diverse background. Not in the racial sense, but of beliefs and ideals. My mother’s side is primarily German Lutheran. In fact, her father was even a priest. My father’s side, on the other hand, is Irish Catholic, which, as you can imagine, has caused a few problems for family reunions; and by that I mean, we’ve never had a family reunion. Luckily for me, my father isn’t huge on religion so he didn’t hesitate to be married under my Grandfather in a Lutheran church. That’s not to say his mother (my grandmother) didn’t nearly refuse to attend the wedding.

            The most family members from both sides that I’ve witnessed gathering at the same occasion was at my sister’s graduation party. There have been other choice occasions, but considering that my family is fairly spread out across the country, it’s difficult to travel the distance to attend weddings and such, so I haven’t been able to attend. It was really interesting to sit back and watch my family from both sides interact with each other. Very small conversation would be made. Topics were simple and mild to avoid any kind disagreements; for there were bound to be some. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that either side hates each other. It’s just that the difference in religion and lifestyles doesn’t make for a pleasant conversation.

Growing up in a fairly religious family, I attended church just about every Sunday. As I got older, however, I really began questioning religion. Seeing how easily it kept my family fairly separate from each other, I naturally didn’t appreciate the concept. There were other reasons I turned away from religion, as well.

I often went to my pastor with questions about homosexuality, exorcisms, and what our “regulations” were about who can go to heaven. Come to find out, Lutherans are very lenient when it comes to applying concepts from the bible to everyday life. When asked about homosexuality, he responded by saying that the bible has been re-written and translated hundreds of times. So, who are we to say that homosexuals are sinners? In Lutheranism, the bible exists more so as a set of guide lines, rather than a literal decree. In fact, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod just approved the ordination of gay pastors.  

Contrary to what one would normally think, I have actually grown up to be an extremely open person without a huge interest in any one religion. However, if there was any religion that I could have grown up with, I’m glad it was Lutheranism. To me, it seems that Lutherans are much more open to topics such as homosexuality and the respect of other religions. Even though I’ve strayed away from religion today, I feel that growing up as a Lutheran has played a huge role in molding my identity into what it is today.

            Aside from my home life, I’ve been involved with music in school ever since I can remember. I’ve been in chorus, band, jazz band, madrigal choir, marching band and musicals. Music, for me, is something that helps me escape from whatever I’m going through. It gives me something to occupy myself. Also, I simply love to play. At home, whenever I was bored, I’d pick out a couple of piano books, sit down at the piano, and sight read.  It is really relaxing for me, plus it gives me an outlet to vent any emotional issues through the notes that I play.

Throughout my years in grade school, I have met many people through the music department. Music was irrefutably the best part of my day. Not only was I able to take a break from academics, I was able to spend time with people who shared my passion and enthusiasm. Whether it was jazz band rehearsal or music theory, I always found being in a group where everybody has the same interests as you is a great environment for connecting with people. Some of my closest friends that I have today were made in the music wing of my high school.

Whenever you take part in a music ensemble or group, one of the re-occurring ideals is to be ‘open to your feelings.’ I’ll never forget a quote from my band director in 9th grade: “Never be afraid to say what you feel because good music comes from true emotions, so you’ve got to be true to yourself.” Even though this sounds incredibly corny, this piece of advice has actually helped me come to terms with who I am. Rather than think about what I say to please other people, I learned to say what was really on my mind, which helped me find my place among my peers.

Before I entered high school, I was an extremely anxious person with a hyper active personality, which proved to be extremely annoying for others around me. Even the slightest mishap would send me on a worry rant. Something as simple as a missed question on my homework assignment would drive me to tears due to anxiety. For the longest time, I thought this was normal, until the “phase” never passed.

Eventually, after my sister left for college, my first panic attack was triggered. Soon after, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder. So, throughout junior high and the first years of high school, I went through a difficult period where therapy and counseling became a part of my weekly schedule. When trying to relax, I would often revert to playing the piano or listening to music. Without the help of therapy, counseling, and music, I would not have changed into the much more relaxed and self-reflecting person that I am now.

Naturally, during this process, my group of friends shifted, causing me to realize who I wanted in my life, as opposed to those who I wanted to please. Before, I spent all of my brainpower focused on making others think highly of me. I never stopped thinking about what others thought of me. It wasn’t until after I was able to stray away from this habit that I was able to forget everyone else and pay more attention to the smaller things in life. I focused more on activities that brought me enjoyment and satisfaction. This step in the healing process really helped me realize what mattered most to me.

Rather than simply naming off a few words and hope to get my personal identity across, I find it extremely effective to use different aspects of my life as an aid to define who I am. However, if I was for some strange reason put in a situation where I was forced to use a few choice words, I feel the words “open-minded, true, appreciative, and introspective” would do the job.

            My identity has formed over the years from many different experiences, habits, and ideals. However, I feel that my identity as an American truly comes to light through my political and social views. In order to really define one’s ‘American Identity,’ I feel it is necessary to define yourself through the eyes of our nation.

            If I had to associate myself with a certain party, I would identify as a liberal democrat. For the most part, I am middle of the road. However, when it comes to change in the government, I am for it as long as the change is based on a reputable premise. For a while, I have held a negative attitude towards our country. I’ve never really felt “proud to be an American.” I’ve read the countless stories of corrupt politicians, loop holes in the judicial system, and the rising unemployment and homeless rates of the population. I always thought that patriotism was corny and misplaced.

            It wasn’t until this past year that my negative, pessimistic attitudes towards the U.S. began to change. My economics professor in high school made an extremely prevalent point one day in class and it’s stuck with me ever since. He started the class period out by taking a small public opinion poll. We had to raise our hands if our view of the government was good, bad, or in-between. Come to find out, the majority of the class raised their hands for bad. He then asked us why that was, if we even had an explanation. The overall census was that our opinions originated from what we acquired from the media. This was exactly the answer he was looking for.

            My economics teacher’s main problem with the population today is that too many people think badly of our government and either A.)Don’t know why, or B.) Don’t do anything about it. He went on to tell us that the media plays a huge role in influencing our opinions. The media (whether it be newspapers, news channels, or the internet) tends to only portray negative stories because that is what the public wants to see. Nobody wants to hear that everything is fine and dandy because, well, it’s just not interesting. This is why my teacher strongly suggested that we use more than just one media source. If you exhaust as many sources as you have available, you will have a much better sense of what is going on in the world today.

            This piece of advice is what first prompted me to rethink my opinion towards this country. Leaving my hometown and entering college also helped me gain new perspective. When you’re stuck in a conservative, closedminded town for a long period of time, it’s easy to be bogged down by the negative attitudes of the people around you. Living on my own has helped me realize just how fortunate I am for the opportunity to grow up in a free society. Even though we have our fair share of problems, I’m now starting to appreciate what being an American can mean.
            Through the friends I’ve made, the family I’ve grown up with, the experiences I’ve shared, and the background I’ve come from, I have formed a personal identity that is definitive and unique. My ability to listen to others and express myself are a huge part of who I am. However, it isn’t until I view my identity through the country I’ve been raised in that I can successfully show who I am as an American.

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