Tuesday, April 14, 2009

When Are You?

By S. P. Udayakumar, Research Fellow for the Kirwan Institute

Khan Abdul Wali Khan, a Pakistani statesman, was once asked how he saw his identity. He said he had been a Pakistani for the past 50 years, a Muslim for the past 500 years, but a Pathan for the past 5000 years. Evidently, his ethnic identity was the most important for him. It is common knowledge now that a pure ethnicity is an illusion in today’s world. So the question of “who are you?” cannot be answered in a simple and straightforward manner anymore in our complex, complicated interdependent global society.

The moment we think of our ethnic identity, we impulsively turn to our past as it is our history and heritage that define it. In a world where pure ethnicity is problematic, historical rendering of identity and single and linear narratives are also equally tricky. Does that mean we should be content with the broad human identity that answers the question “what are you?”

There are people who argue that we are all born for a purpose and hence the secret of your success and happiness on the Earth depends on your answering the question “why are you (born)?” or “how are you (living)?” and so forth.

In my opinion, none of these questions actually answers our existential predicaments in the world today. Considering the interdependent nature of our societies, inter-relatedness of all the planetary issues such as climate change, population explosion, poverty, etc., and the inter-reliant futures we all face, the right question to ask would be “when are we?” A Pakistani futurist and friend, Sohail Inayatullah, posits it is our common and collective futures that should define our identity and not our past or present. So, when are you?

1 comment:

  1. i dont think we can begin to answer the when are you, until we've sufficiently answered the who we are (the construct as process not as an individual being acted upon by society, but the individual recognizing the society in which she is born and acting in concert with it, consciously influencing and being influenced by it), and the why are we (because purpose is directed, enlivens and promotes agency). We cant possibly see the whole if we have yet to consciously view the parts so that we can begin to see them as related.