Tag Archive | "group identity"

You’ve Been Accepted!

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Every year at this time, many of us hear of the acceptances of young people that we know by various institutions of higher learning.  And, many of us who have attempted entry into a university, graduate, or professional school, have felt the sense of joy and relief experienced by those receiving acceptances.  It is good to be accepted.


For most of our lives, we all, often consciously and sometimes subconsciously, seek acceptance and approval – initially from our parents and later from friends, groups, clubs, teams, schools, employers, and others.  As humans, we are social animals, and groups within society establish standards, either formal or informal, for inclusion and exclusion.


To be included means that you have been evaluated by those in authority and recognized as meeting the standards of that group.  And, whether that group represents a major university, a corporation, a team, a gang, a private club, or some other form of professional, academic, or social clique, that inclusion redefines you and clothes you with the status and prestige associated with that particular group.  Membership, as they say, has its privileges.


Of course, educational institutions, teams, and other groups often need to limit their students, players, or members as a matter of practicality.  It is neither the necessity nor process of selection, but rather the attitudes displayed by selectors and selectees, individually and collectively, that heighten the anguish of the applicant awaiting a decision.


The flip-side of acceptance is rejection.  The stark reality is that not everyone who applies will be accepted.  In fact, most applicants must be rejected in order for any group to maintain its aura of exclusivity.  And despite the long odds, the more exclusive a group is, the more desirable that group becomes in the eyes of those desperately seeking inclusion in its ranks.


The human ego, while broad, is not very deep.  And, group exclusivity feeds that ego and begets the most valueless of human emotions, pride based solely on group identity and contempt for those deemed unworthy of inclusion.  This is the dark side of acceptance.


Acceptance’s dark side is the product of vanity, the ego’s narcissistic way of proclaiming its comparative significance; hence, the relief felt by those receiving the imprimatur of acceptance.  For the acceptees, the stigma of rejection has been averted.


With acceptance, the anguish of possible rejection felt by the applicant is all too often quickly forgotten, much like the labor pains of the mother during childbirth.  Rather than serving as a humbling experience, the process of application and evaluation is now perceived as a process of validation, a means of keeping out undesirable elements.


And so is fabricated the wall of exclusivity and class structure that demeans our very humanity.



Blinded by Group Identity

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Players in professional sports change teams so frequently today that it is a running joke that fans are basically “rooting for the uniform.”  Whether that uniform may be the hallowed pinstripes of the New York Yankees, Dodger blue, the silver and black of the Oakland Raiders, or any of the other familiar, immediately recognizable symbols of professional franchises, their respective fans identify with the colors and logos associated with the franchise brands.  They purchase team apparel and memorabilia in aggregate volumes that are staggering.  They love their team’s players and hate those of their rivals.  Amazingly enough, when one of the hated rival players becomes a member of their team, the fans embrace that player – with years of animosity melting away as readily as snow on a warm spring day.  Many of the most diehard among them live and die, figuratively speaking, with the fortunes of their teams.

An outsider, or someone with little interest in professional sports, may look upon the dedication and loyalty of such individuals as ludicrous.  Yet, if each of us earnestly examines our own attitudes and behaviors, the vast majority of us would have to admit, even if reluctantly, our own illogical, sometimes shameful attachment to groups based upon externalities.  The groups with which we identify may be the result of external features such as the color of skin, gender, height, weight, relative beauty, or apparent wealth or social status.  These characteristics are our “uniforms,” and we wear these uniforms every day.  Some
aspects of our “uniforms” may change over time; others will identify us for our lifetimes.

Consider for a moment your own attitudes, judgment, and behaviors.  How often do the “uniforms” worn by others affect the decisions you make in your personal or professional life?  Are you more likely to associate, befriend, or hire someone because of his or her skin color, appearance, or social status?

Making judgments based upon externalities and identifying ourselves with groups are learned behaviors.  They begin, for most of us, with that first group with which we identify – our families.  In our total dependence on our parents and other early-life caregivers, we learn reliance and trust.  We bond with our family members and come to view others who look and behave as they do as friendly and trustworthy.  Conversely, we become wary of those whose appearance and observable actions differ from that first group with which we have identified.  During our lives, we will come to identify with many groups, but few will have the lasting influence of our families.

As humans, we have a great capacity for change and adaptation.  Sadly, many of us can never truly trust or embrace anyone wearing a different “uniform” from those of the groups with which we identify.  And, this attitude creates a formidable barrier to the advancement of humankind.

Our greatness, as a civilization, lies in our abilities to work collectively and to build upon the foundations laid by others.  The pyramids of Egypt or the skyscrapers in cities around the world were not the work of individuals.  Our greatest discoveries in medicine or technology, although often credited to an individual, could not have occurred without the contributions of those who had set the table for such breakthroughs with innovations of their own doing.

With our greatest achievements yet to come, we can hardly rely upon the efforts of a single person or team.  We need to break down barriers – allowing us to collaborate with people wearing other “uniforms” to optimize collective efforts in our communities, nations, and world.

Judgments based upon appearances and group identity denigrate the value of the individual human life and propagate distrust, hatred, and often violence between groups and isolation of individuals from society as a whole.  Imagine that your group identity was somehow changed.

If you were horribly disfigured in an accident, would that change who you are at the core of your being?  Yet, you may become isolated from those groups with which you had previously identified – perhaps, avoided, pitied, or derided by those whom you had once considered friends.

On June 12, 1987, standing at the Brandenburg Gate of the Berlin Wall, then President Ronald Reagan made a speech including the exhortation: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”  The Wall of which President Reagan spoke was ultimately dismantled, heralding the joyous reunification of a free and united Germany.

Yet, Reagan’s appeal to the leader the Soviet Union at that time could be made to each of us today.  Peoples of the world, tear down those walls that isolate you from the other inhabitants of this planet!  Look beyond the external and superficial, and you may be surprised to discover that the things that we all hold in common far outweigh our differences.  In that way, we may break down barriers, resolve our major differences, and live in relative peace and harmony.

Is this merely an unrealistic, naïve, and unattainable dream?  Only if you believe that it is so.

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