We’ve looked at labels, and social identity. This is where it all comes together. I became a Stevenage FC supporter on January 4th, 1997 for no other reason than I went to see Stevenage Borough (as we were back then) play Birmingham in the FA Cup 3rd Round and met people who accepted me. Life was uncertain at the time, and people I trusted had shown themselves to be untrustworthy. When I hit my worst point, there were two groups of people who found me and helped me. One was the church I began attending*, and the other was a rowdy bunch of Boro fans. The Boro supporters had no idea who I was, what my history was, where I was from, or anything else about me. They accepted me unconditionally. I was hooked, and 20 years later and a move half way around the world, I am still Boro for life (thanks in large part to the internet and the often ridiculous BoroChat forum (enter at your own risk)).
I am fortunate in that the group who found me are good people. The club is a good club, we have a reputation for family friendliness and win awards. We take pride in being a place where kids can feel safe. We get to celebrate St. Woking Day. Is it perfect? No, of course not. There’s bad language, variations in moral standards, and different perspectives on things. It’s still a bunch of football supporters who find an outlet that is just a microcosm of their week playing out every Saturday. There are people from different social classes and educational backgrounds, and some people who are better able to manage their expression of frustration than others. Just like life. This is one of my in-groups.
The point is that being different is normal. We have always had disagreements between social groups and our initial response will be to defend our own, but where we may be rivals in one group, we are allies in another. We can genuinely change the world if we find those areas we agree on. I could have decided that Stevenage FC wasn’t the team for me and walked away, but I didn’t, because for one day a week people in other groups come together to share a common passion in another group. If we create a world in which people want to join, they will stay. If we try to create compliance, people will rebel.
Here are today’s three takeaways:
1 – We each have beliefs and ideals. Our social identity is formed when we find other people who believe as we do and accept us.
2 – If people are consistently left on the outside there will be two potential outcomes. The first is social withdrawal, which can lead to depression, anxiety and other disorders. This is a path many with mental illness and disorders go down. The second path is one in which people join fringe or extremist groups, which is typically not great for society.
3 – Team colours matter. Identity matters. Groups matter. We all need to feel we belong, a healthy identity depends on us finding people who belong to us, and who we belong to.
As ever, this boils down to how we can make a difference in the world. The group mentality is such that it can leave people isolated when they are on the outside. It is up to us to help support and accept people, those who may not feel they have a place, those on the outside, those who are hurt or sick, and help them find belonging. We can’t sit by and allow people to be isolated and then be surprised when they find a place in an extremist group, turning their back on society, or worse, supporting Woking FC.
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* In the spirit of full disclosure I should note that my reputation preceded me in the church. My first meeting with the Pastor went like this:
Pastor: I’ve heard you’re trouble. Are you trouble?
Me: I can be, yes.
She laughed. To this day Dennis and Brenda Marshall encapsulate all it means to be a Christian pastor. They healed me of so much hurt from where I was leaving, and loved me back to health. I owe so much to them. They brought me in from the outside and changed my life.