Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Countdown: 10 Days to Go

"He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him...."

John 1: 10, 11

Alienation is an uncomfortable experience.

Its impact cannot be easily measured and neither can one quantify the depth of pain one can go through upon feeling alienated. It affects people at the most fundamental level, and that is, make them feel less belonged, unwanted and invisible.

Gregarious beings that we are, alienation becomes a denial of what characterises us as individuals and as a species. Sociologists have long described us as social animals, and it is this very essence of being social animals that gets tarnished as a result of being alienated from others.

In other words, it disproves what John Donne said in his poem that 'no man is an island' because through alienation we become nothing more than archipelagoes floating in a friendless ocean.

Maybe that's a bit too harsh but when one looks at alienation as a wider phenomenon, one can understand why it is also one of the most defining features of contemporary life.

Today there is a greater technological convergence that has made long distance communication easier, cultural interaction made more feasible, and great distances bridged through faster airline connections. However, despite such progress, loneliness, isolation and alienation haven't disappeared altogether but have increased considerably.

Intolerance of the 'other' (whoever or whatever that may be) has pushed people to seek and embrace homogenity. The worldwide web and satellite tv haven't exactly made people learn more about other cultures despite all the information easily available. It has, instead, made people tune in to information and entertainment channels that they are in agreement with. While easier airline connections may have increased the tourism industry, one look at some of the travel brochures will indicate that the itineraries are planned to ensure that the tourists enjoy the 'familiar' in the 'food and accommodation' arrangements.

This is just one aspect of the issue that I'm talking about, and perhaps, one that has given a rational twist or even justification to the existence of archipelagoes. After all, people are more comfortable in the company of individuals with whom they share some sort of cultural and intellectual affinity. Hence, they should never be faulted if they choose to isolate those who are different because they'll have nothing to talk about, nothing to contribute, nothing to strengthen relationships.

Hence, the alienation that they go through should be accepted not only as 'normal' but as something that's good for them. Or so the reasoning goes while insisting that it's nothing personal. It's natural, we're told, and asked to accept the conditions as they are.

When one looks at the Christmas story in this context, one gets a better understanding of why Christ was ultimately 'despised and rejected' by people He called His own. God in flesh was alienated by people He created and made to suffer the agony of the cross. And in that singular moment, He was able to identify with millions of people who are alienated by others on account of factors they have no control over.

The Christmas story is essentially that of reconciliation between God and humanity, the perfect making a connection with the imperfect, the righteous with the unrighteous.

The question is, what does this teach us about our responsibilities? What should our response be to the 'others' in our midst? Will we choose to continue alienating 'others' who are different? Or will we forget about our 'selves' for a moment and actively reach out to those who have been made to feel isolated and lonely in the world we live in?

Our response and our action will determine whether or not it will be a merry christmas for them or just another lonely day in December.

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