I heard a piece this morning on NPR ("Oooh, you're sooooo smarrrt!") about being British, which apparently is a question that generates a certain amount of existential angst these days. Earlier this year, in fact, Parliament deliberated how it could foster a more cohesive British identity among its citizens. The immediate reaction of the general populace was derision, mockery and irony; a London newspaper ran a "British slogan" contest, and among the winning entries were "At least we're not French" and "No mottos, please, we're British."
The Brits, it seems, defy categorization--not in the sense that it's difficult to categorize them but in the sense that they don't like it. But in a global economy that's driven by brands and slogans, ambiguity is a death sentence. But even more pressing, in the mind of British government, is the notion that by not sharing a common identity, Britons don't identify with one another--which means that immigrant communities remain isolated from the established mainstream, and more generally the general populace slowly stops concerning itself with one another. That's the fear, at least.
Around the same time I heard this discussion on NPR ("Yeah, we heard you the first time, Mr. Smartypants") I was flipping through a manuscript about the approach to church and Christian practice that developed in the United States and its distinctiveness from its European ancestors. Not to blow the punchline, but U.S. Christianity foreswore the state-church, hierarchical and tenured church organization of Europe in favor of a more entrepreneurial, democratic, frontiered organization--a development that had the advantages of a more involved laity but the disadvantage of an effective divorce from church history. The American church is less interested in cohesion with its larger, broader context, perhaps, than Britons are with their Britishness. The concern that emerges out of this development is that the Christian church, which ought to be transnational, dis-integrates into isolated tribes, eventually fading from view altogether. That's the fear, at least.
As if this brand confusion wasn't enough, I recently heard a presentation that detailed the differences between how boomers (old people), Gen Xers (really cool people like me) and Millennials (all those punk kids that are stealing all my office mojo) conduct themselves in the workforce--what expectations they bring and how they express their ambition or dissatisfaction. Basically, the younger you are, the more you crave context; and yet the younger you are, the more resistant you are to being categorized. We want to know how we fit, but we don't want to be told where we fit. That's what I call the horns of a dilemma.
Fears and dilemmas; something we all have in common, I suppose. I haven't drawn any conclusions about all this, but when I notice convergence, I like to acknowledge it. Any wisdom for our friends who are British? or Gen X? or boomers? or Millennials? or Christian? Anything?