An incident that took place yesterday got me thinking about a topic that is probably very appropriate at election season (in some ways more applicable after an election than before). That is, how and why we identify and associate within groups.
The reason I say this seems appropriate around elections is that part of the political process, at least for those who wish to make things happen rather than being content to simply express their views, is for groups to form from previously unconnected people in support or opposition of a candidate or proposed law or policy.
What happened yesterday reminded me of the psychological effect of identifying ourselves with a group.
I was driving to work when someone ahead of me began driving uncertainly as if the driver was trying to choose a route while driving. The driver was hovering near the lane line deciding whether to get in the turn lane or whether to go straight through the light ahead. As I was entering the turn lane the driver made the decision to do the same – right in front of me. That wasn’t a huge problem but it was mildly frustrating until I looked in the top right corner of the back window of their SUV where I spotted a sticker like the one pictured at the top of the post.
That picture was taken from the bottom left corner of my rear window and it identified the vehicle ahead of me as belonging to someone who lives somewhere near me. As soon as I saw the sticker all feeling of annoyance vanished with the thought that we were both on the same team (metaphorically speaking).
When we individually make a decision to be part of a group we should feel some affinity for members of the group at least in some general sense even if not always for each member individually.
I have noticed that most of the time when there is a large group for people to identify with there tend to be many smaller groups within the larger group with which we may choose to associate. Over recent years as I have tried to be more politically active I have been amazed at the wide array of caucuses that have been formed connected to various parties and political bodies. It seems to be that each member of the larger group has the opportunity to define themselves or display their identity through the smaller groups that they choose to associate with.
Those smaller groups gain prestige or notoriety based on who chooses to identify with them, therefore it is common for them to invite prominent members of the larger or parent group to join them but generally it is up to individuals to take the initiative and self identify with the groups of their choosing.
My experience has been that joining the smaller groups provides individuals with an opportunity to rub shoulders with people they otherwise would not have much chance to interact with. For those interested in gaining prominence within the larger group there is also the benefit of expanded opportunities to participate in leadership and otherwise demonstrate their commitment.
Interestingly I have also noticed that even within the types of groups where participation in subgroups is a matter of assignment (like committee assignments in a legislative body) it is what individuals choose to do and how they self identify within the larger group that determines the scope of their influence and acceptance within the group.
The thing I have learned at the times when I have wanted to accomplish things personally or politically is that I can’t be shy about seeking out the groups that I would associate with – for some reason they rarely find and invite me. If they ever do I suspect that I will be running the risk of having other people define me based on their invitations or lack thereof.