In the last article, we looked at labels. In this one we’ll talk about social identity and belonging to a group. One of the best comparisons I have found to view the idea of social identity and groups is the parallel of life and sport. Sport offers all the components for the struggles and victories that we face in life. A while back someone commented on a LinkedIn article I wrote and they discussed how Albert Camus had said “After many years during which I saw many things, what I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA” (Racing Universitaire Algerios, the soccer team he played for). I think he has a great point, and for anyone involved with sport at any level we can probably relate.
In life we seek security, acceptance, and the opportunity to find connections with people. In sport we put on the shirt of the team we support and join others who are also wearing those same colours. We want to belong, to win, to achieve, and we will defend our own. We are proud of our players when they fight for us, but we just as easily turn against them when they show no passion or desire to fight for us. To be part of the in-group you have to be a benefit to the group. If a player or coach gives up and no longer benefits the group, they quickly find themselves on the outside.
These attitudes carry over into other areas of life. People who are different or live with mental illness and disorders such as Tourette’s disorder where behaviours are involuntary and don’t fit with a social group often find themselves on the outside. Those behaviours that don’t fit with social norms can put people in an out-group status, and sometimes people put themselves there due to fear of rejection, or feeling they don’t belong. Imagine wearing a Millwall shirt in a pub where West Ham fans share a friendly drink together. Being different would result in you being politely asked to leave the premises, regardless of your behaviour. If you are wearing a Millwall shirt you’d probably feel safer in a pub with other Millwall supporters, whether you know them or not (if you have no idea what I am talking about, click here). It’s all about belonging and identity, and finding a place to fit in.
Here are today’s three takeaways:
1 – Like it or not, you are in a group. Many groups. Parent, spouse, sport fan, vegan, hunter, political party affiliate. You, me, everyone – we’re in groups and we like it.
2 – It is sometimes easier to feel a greater sense of belonging with a group of strangers than it is with people we know.
3 – It is so easy to see differences between us, but we become healthier, stronger, and have stronger mental health if we focus on the areas we have commonality.
Groups are the way society and individuals grow, develop, learn and identify. Groups are where we find belonging and security. One of the great ironies is that in our current society we are unable to see the reality that we are likely only one or two groups from finding common ground with anyone.
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