The Difference an Imaginary Line Can Make

When viewed from space our planet has no actual boundary lines. It’s all greens and blues with swirly clouds here and there. It’s a beautiful sphere of peace and harmony. Yet, when viewed from the surface, there are imaginary lines all over the place. Lines that tell us we’re in a certain country, and if we’re born there what nationality we must claim. Lines that break down each country into segments such as states, provinces, counties, and municipalities. It’s not enough that we’re already divided into physical continents by the oceans, with the exception of Europe and Asia. No, we had to go and mark out territories, and spend a lot of time fighting over what amounts to nothing more than imaginary lines.

I’d really like to know why it is we feel it’s necessary to do this. I know there’s greed involved, because the resources of the planet are valuable, and so we try to claim as many of those resources as we can. However, I was born into a set of rules I took no part in making. I didn’t decide where I wanted to be born, and neither did anyone else. The moment we emerge from the womb we are bound by laws and customs, and told we’re some sort of nationality. I was born in Canada, and so I’m Canadian, but as much as I love my country it was never a choice that I made. Either fate or mere happenstance determined that I took my first breath of air in this country. By doing so I was issued an identity packet. A birth certificate and social insurance number to be precise. Then because I was born in Ontario I was issued health insurance based on that.

So when did I choose any of this? Well, I didn’t. My only choice thus far has been to remain where I am, rather than relocate to some place of my choosing. What bothers me, however, are the rules that were slapped on me at the moment of my birth. Who decided that a red traffic light would mean you had to come to a full and complete stop? Who is it that determined a dandelion is a weed, when I grew up eating dandelion leaf salad, and others made dandelion wine – and that determination meant that your neighbours could complain if you had too many on your lawn? Some of the rules are so arbitrary that you can’t keep from shaking your head at them.

The imaginary lines have such a powerful effect on people that even those that speak the same language will become confused by the word usage of people from a different country. A good example of this has to do with the political system. In the United States, the word ‘liberal’ is interpreted as a political affiliation rather than the way in which the word is defined in the dictionary. Being Canadian means something completely different from being an American. A liberal, even in the political realm, does not mean the same thing. I once said someone was pretty liberal, and the person I said it to was insulted, when in that context all I meant was that they weren’t bigoted. I thought it was a compliment, but it certainly wasn’t taken that way.

It’s actually kind of amazing all the little differences an imaginary line can make. Sure, at their core most people are basically the same, but the way they process language and react in everyday situations can be the polar opposite of someone from a different country. There can be a lot of confusion and miscommunications. When I worked for a multi-national corporation years ago, I had to deal with these differences on a daily basis. My job involved financial, payroll and human resources tasks, and with everything I did I was constantly dealing with people in different places. What made it so bizarre was that everyone assumed things were done exactly the same everywhere else, and mostly because they simply couldn’t imagine things being done a different way.

When I talk to my American friends about political or social issues, I’m fascinated by the way people view themselves, their country, and countries outside their own. It’s like no other country exists outside of the US. If things are done a certain way there, they either assume it’s done the same elsewhere, or if they know it’s not they don’t understand why anyone would do things differently. I’m sure the reverse is true to some extent. Every country has its own way of dealing with the citizens it governs, and even when things aren’t perfectly smooth we think our way is the best possible way. By having friends in countries all over the world, however, I’ve learned about some of the options out there. I’ve learned to be grateful I was shoved into the world exactly where I am, because I know it could be a whole lot worse, but then I also know it could be a whole lot better.

I was drawn to watching Star Trek shows and movies long ago, and there was a message within the franchise that was embodied in pretty much every episode every made. It was the ideal society, where people that were not only different races and religions, but also different species, were basically considered the same. Sure the Federation, the Romulans and the Klingons were enemies, and those clashes were a good metaphor for racism and bigotry, but as the franchise played out from one series to the next, those clashes softened and soon there were real attempts to bring everyone together.

Throughout the years, my best hope for humanity was always along similar lines to Star Trek. I truly want everyone to have a place at the bargaining table, no matter what our differences might be. A world without persecution is something I’d like to see in my lifetime. I don’t think it will happen without some major precipitating event or catastrophe, and maybe it’s not meant to be, but it’s my hope for the world anyway. The creation of the International Space Station really boosted those hopes. The very idea that we would share space like that seemed to me a step in the right direction. Things might be a mess on the surface of our planet, but up there they have a pretty great perspective on things. Now we can only hope that everyone will start to see things with those eyes, where the imaginary lines are no longer relevant.

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