One of the things that amazes me about American society is how much of a "to do" culture it is. Whenever you meet someone, the first thing that person tells you is what he does in his life. In the psyche of the American, a person is worth as much as his resume, and the lowest life form is the individual who is where he is at because he somehow inherited it.
One of the virtues I find in this obsession with "doing" is existential. The average American is the most restless human being in the world. He's a workoholic who works more than eight hours a day, not because he needs to feed himself, but because he wants to work. There is an unquenchable drive to be engaged in an activity; to help make something happen.
Another virtue of this attitude is, ironically, social. Professions tend to bring more people together than race, nationality or religious creed. In social gatherings, I find that although people are interested in my background and do ask me to elaborate, discussions revolve around the question: "so, what have you been doing lately?" or "what do you do in life?"
Compare that reality with the situation in Lebanon. Some of the most important questions asked there are: "where are you from?" "from what village is your dad? and mom?" "what's your family name?" and "who's your grand father?" When discussing the virtues of an individual, one of the most important criteria is summarized in the following question: is he from a good family?
In short, the issue of "who you are" is one of the biggest in Lebanese society; and although what you do is definitely important, it comes in a distant second place.
The most important downside of this societal trait is existential. People, especially men, feel that their life is justified mainly by being who they are. Why should Jubran do something worthwhile when he already "earns" admiration for simply being the son of Malek? Why should Mohammed/Joseph care about doing something in their lives when they both feel that just by being Muslim/Christian they are "better off", and are comforted by the prospect of eventual salvation - even though neither really practices his religion?
More damaging, however, is the behavior of those individuals who are motivated. Whatever enterprise they wish to undertake must be justified by answering the following questions: how does this benefit you (as if doing something is not inherently beneficial)? how does if benefit your family? your village? your sect? etc, etc....
This mindset simply does wonders for poisoning Lebanon's social environment. Identity factors into what friends you hang out with, who you support in the elections (rather than, for example, who will give you a tax break or better garbage collection), who you marry, etc....
I sometimes ask myself: if Lebanese valued "what they did" as much as americans do, how different would things be? If people were drawn together because of what they do in life rather than what sect or village they're from, what would happen to our infamous sectarianism?
The majority of Lebanese will say that they are not sectarian, but the political structure forces them to be that way. Unfortunately, I have to conclude that they are being dishonest with themselves and the rest of us. It goes much deeper than simply politics. Who you are is a question that is imbeded in our psyche, and seems to be a permanent fixture.
In my opinion, Lebanese need to look at themselves in the mirror before anything else. Some major behavioral changes need to take place if we are ever to overcome some of the animosity that currently exists between us. Politicians can always change the rules of the game, but in my opinion the problem exists within the people at large; and can only be remedied by them.