I am entering an entirely new place. Australia. People are so different here. I have never been so self-conscious as at this moment. Everybody here knows each other, except for me. I don’t know anyone.They look at me, not disapprovingly but curiously. I have to be at my best behaviour and make a good impression. I am starting to ponder who I actually am; what I have experienced already. And why would I deserve their recognition? I could of course just pretend that nobody scrutinizes me. But I know they do, just as I do them.
They probably try to guess my accent. Canadian? Irish? Ah, Dutch! At once I am seen as ‘Dutch’. In the Netherlands I have never been seen as Dutch.The Dutch in the Netherlands actually don’t have that much in common: there are so many different religions, differences in skin colour, traditions and dialect. One feels Dutch only at the world soccer tournament or when travelling to another country. And when travelling further than France, Italy or Turkey being Dutch suddenly changes into being ‘European’.
But then, what is ‘Europe’ with its variety in cultures, history, and languages. Europe, where everything began, or at least we think so. We? Who is ‘we’? We, the Dutch people? We as Europeans? We women? We twenty-year-olds? We Sagitarius signs of the zodiac? We vegetarians? So many identities. There is no‚ ‘we’ and no ‘they’. If everyone would only understand this, the world would be a better place. Better than it already is. But I am still feeling singled out from all the people that are scrutinizing me in this room.They were born here and think less highly of the place where I come from. We as Europeans are convinced that we brought civilization to the world. For this reason we are, and probably rightly so, disliked in some other parts of the world.
When introducing myself, I can sense some contempt, even if it is only very slight. I am feeling like a stranger. It is not so much the feeling of being ashamed of my nationality, but I am a minority here and therefore feel quite vulnerable.
In this situation I realize that back home, when within my comfort zone, I haven’t always been open minded myself nor welcoming in my thoughts and actions either, but this is a thing of the past and there is nothing I can change about that now.
By the way, didn’t everyone in this room originally come from Europe? The western takeover of this island only began some 200 years ago. Until then the his- tory of our ancestors was more or less similar - for them and for me.
This is my chance to direct attention away from me. And so I ask someone about his origin. ‘I’m 100% Aussie, mate’ is the answer. With some uneasiness I look up at him. Doesn’t he see that I am a woman and not a mate? There is no time to correct him. The answer is repeated. Then I ask him if his ancestors were aborigines. No, not that. But in Australia, European roots are preferably not mentioned. Why not? Because the first English settlers were prisoners? No, because the European identity does not really mesh with the Australian.
While European countries move to- wards each other and emphasize the similarities between them, Australia focuses on creating a national Australian identity.This is a difficult undertaking because in reality your ‘typical Australian’ does not exist, the same as there is not really a ‘European’.
The introduction of the concept of a Europe-wide nationalism requires the individual countries to overcome their cultural borders and differences in politics. For this they were able to draw on centuries-old traditions and culture and emphasize those that promoted the unity of people.
The desire for unity is palpable on the Australian continent.The development of an identity is in full swing, although it is not an easy undertaking. Australians do not want to be ‘deportees’ or ‘convicts’ of Europe but there are no other old traditions and cultures to draw from. The Australians of today look at only 200 years of development of a collective culture.
They want to differentiate themselves from their European history and want to show that they form a part of the English-speaking world like the USA and New Zealand. But does this approach support the forming of an identity? Actually it does. The ‘Australian dream’ replaces the ‘American dream’. Australia is the ‘country of unlimited opportunities’. It is the country of iron-ore and mines; the country of self-made millionaires; there is no blue blood, no aristocracy or nobility. The rich are brokers, mine owners, casino bosses. Australians cannot refer to the great minds of the Renaissance, to timeless philosophers or the wisdom of the East. Therefore they look somewhere else. Simplicity and easiness are rated very highly and put above the complexity of the human being. Everything is ‘too easy, mate.’
The tolerance of Australians is high- ly praised, although mostly only by themselves.Everyone is welcomed and loved but only as long he/she can put the right check marks on his/her visa application.
Just as your suitcases cannot exceed the allowed measurements when boarding the plane, so you can enter the sparsely populated continent only when you are healthy, under 30 and from a western industrial country. A Coca-Cola culture with low tolerance.
A highly praised mentality (although mostly by them- selves) that says: ‘I’ m not a racist, but most Aboriginals are criminals’.
This reminds me of a quote by Voltaire: ‘It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets.’
Trumpets resound on this continent every year on the day when the English first arrived here with their fleet. The fact that on that very day an epoch of exploitation and genocide on aborigines began is fully ignored. Just to keep matters simple: ‘Don’t we all live peacefully together now? The one in a mansion, the other in a shack, but didn’t everyone have the same opportunities? That’s how it is – you can’t change it!’
The atmosphere in the room has changed. I had assumed to find consent for my ideas about racial equality, gender equality or homosexual marriage. But in stead it triggered a heated discussion in which I had to defend my ideas.
I realize that until now I hardly ever had to defend my opinions and that I took this for granted. I am overcome with a feeling of sadness and apprehension. I am afraid that I will forget where I am coming from or why I am ashamed and I look away because I am tired of it and don’t want to start again to explain an- other time to the taxi-driver that skin colour does not affect the worthiness of a person. I feel like withdrawing from all these new situations back into my comfort zone and go and search for like-minded people. I catch myself thinking: they are different!
Not to judge others has never been such a challenge, because I am still striving to see the light, the power of civilization in the form of the love in people around you. I end up in a bit of a panic, because I can’t see it. I close my eyes in desperation. All of a sudden I re- member Noverosa. I focus on my inner being. I can hear the temple songs and under my feet I can feel the pebbles of the path leading to the temple. (‘Don’t run!’).
There is the fragrance of the rose garden and suddenly I become aware that simplicity isn’t so strange after all when I think of the description of the universal power, a simple spark, born of a great fire, present in every human heart.
The panic fades when I realize that we all have the same origin and everyone knows it with certainty from deep within. The quest for unity is a shared history. It is everyone’s search.
Now I can feel it again. I know again who I truly am - what my true identity is. I know again where I come from. This is a new chance. I did not even know that I had a need for it. Although I am on the other side of the world I truly feel connected and finally am at home again. It doesn’t matter where I am.
Source: Pentagram 2016 number 1