Who are we?
Does our nationality or citizenship define us in some way?
There is much confusion around and it’s about time to clarify the meaning of some words much used and sometimes abused.
These three words communicate different concepts answering to three very different questions:
Who am I? (Identity)
Where are my roots? (Nationality)
To Which Community I belong? (Citizenship)
Of course, the most difficult question – and the most important – is the first one. And we are totally free to answer as we like and we feel. No objective data, no other person can answer for us. Our choices, our purpose in life, our beliefs, our personality traits are important clues, but ultimately we decide about their priority in defining who we are. Our nationality – our culture, religion, language – adds to our identity, but there is so much more at stake.
Nationality, so, is only a part of our identity. It is the place where we are born or the nationality of our parents. It is where we feel at home or where our roots are. It is our language, often our religion too. It is our food, our traditions. It could even be our football team. We can choose to identify totally with it or not, we can even feel disconnected, as it may happen in a dysfunctional family.
Citizenship, instead, is a political concept. It is the community we belong to, where we enjoy political rights, where we vote, or participate in some way.
Citizenship can be acquired and can be lost. Multiple citizenships are possible.
Even if usually nationality and citizenship go together, it may not be so (as for Albert Einstein) or we could have citizenship without a state, as it is the case for European citizenship, or citizenship beyond the borders, as Estonian e-citizenship. If nationality may be an accident, citizenship may be a choice.
In the end, as social animals, we humans need identity, roots, belonging. We also need to be aware that the circumstances of our life do not define who we are, we do.
And we could also accept the idea that all these definitions can be dynamic: identity evolves as we grow and deepen our understanding of ourselves; nationality, as the tree’ s roots, expands as we learn more about our culture and its interconnectedness with other cultures; citizenship can change as we progress in our life path and I bet that we are going to experiment new more kind of citizenships, as legal creations giving us rights and access. We, humans, are a work in progress.
Whatever the nationality and the citizenship, the broader is the definition we give of ourselves, the larger is our circle of compassion. Defining ourselves as human beings means we choose to feel connected to the human family.
As Einstein beautifully said, “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind”
It happens when the three, identity, nationality, and citizenship, just overlap and adhere to each other in the illusion of exclusivity and superiority.
We had that disease already. If we can keep that memory alive the next generations will be immune.