Social identity, in a nutshell, is the place where we feel we belong in society. It is where we place our identity, or at least part of it and find our acceptance within a social group. For example, I am a supporter of Stevenage FC. It’s part of my identity in that it is one of the things people may say to describe me (I am sure there are many less flattering things as well), or how I may describe myself. There are many places where we may find our identity and place of acceptance, safety, and security. For some people this may be a membership to a political organisation, for others it may be in recognition of their title, the place they work, or their religion.
Nationalism is another hot button. It always has been. In the late 13th and early 14th Century, Sir William Wallace and Andrew Moray (who for some reason never made the front pages) fought for nationalism, for the freedom of his country, and to remove the yoke of the oppressor. Wallace was walking a tough road trying to inspire the Scottish people to recover their identity. The leaders were arguing among themselves, and it wasn’t as simple as Scotland against England. Wallace had to work with three identities: The English, the Scottish, and the nobles who found their identity in their position and had a foot in both camps.
There is a line when social identity and belonging become dangerous. We like to feel right. We like to belong. We like to feel certain that we are in the right group. For the nobles of Scotland (who often owned land in England) these things were found in King Edward I, the leader of the strongest army in Europe. No doubt, had they believed Wallace would have been victorious they would have supported him, but the odds were long and their identity would have been broken if they lost against Edward. Had they stuck with Wallace and helped him win they would have been immortalised as heroes. As it is, most people don’t know their names and they are simply categorised as the bad guys.
If you’ve ever wondered why people fell into a bad crowd and started to make bad decisions, it’s most likely because they found acceptance. If they don’t respond when you try to bring them back, they probably don’t feel accepted the way they are, and telling them they are wrong isn’t going to help. People need to be accepted, feel they belong, and feel there is a purpose.
Here are today’s three takeaways:
1 – The need for belonging, acceptance, and ultimately, intimacy is the strongest motivator you will find.
2 – People won’t change their ways if all they encounter is criticism. Education is helping people grow and understand, not telling them they are wrong.
3 – We pretend to hate labels. We don’t hate them, we love them. We use them all the time on ourselves and others. It’s how we learn.
We apply labels to ourselves, and depending on who is reading the label the meaning may change. Describing someone as an immigrant, conservative, liberal, *insert religion*, *insert nationality*, or Woking FC supporter means different things to different people. We love labels. The problem isn’t that we use labels, the problem is that we allow them to become a definition of the whole person.
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