Run and Hide from Our Group Identities?

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In my last blog post I wrote about identity politics and how they lead to further division of society based on emphasizing diversity. Speaking bluntly, in our efforts to notice and embrace diversity, and eradicate inequality and intolerance, we may have created a climate in which everyone feels that the group they identify with is unnoticed and discriminated against.

What could be the solution then? Wouldn’t it be beneficial to drop our group identities overall? Can we run and hide from them?

Well, if we wouldn’t identify with a particular social group, we wouldn’t need to confront other groups and fight for the status of our own group, indeed. Yet, social affiliation and, hence, identification with others is also something we are ‘hardwired’ to do. Moreover, as the famous social psychology experiment by Muzafer Sherif confirmed already in 1954, not only are we quick to create a group identity, the ‘WE’ feeling towards people with whom we share goals (or some distinct traits), but we are also quick to create rivalry with ‘THEM’, especially in competition for limited resources. No wonder that Trump’s claims about immigrants stealing jobs keeps his base so unified and activated, for that matter.

Based on my own interest and research regarding identities in multinational organizations, I see hope in holding multiple identities, and holding them more lightly. Specifically, in research with my colleagues Yih-teen Lee, Aline Masuda and Fu Xin (2018), we examined how individuals’ home, host, and global identities interact, and what are the outcomes, for example, in relation to cultural intelligence (CQ) and being perceived as a leader in a multicultural team.

According to the data we gathered, the best outcomes in terms of cultural intelligence and leadership perception accrue to individuals, who either have balanced culture-specific identities, or have a strong global identity. In other words, people who identify with multiple cultures to the same extent, either feeling strongly about both or being “culturally homeless”, demonstrate high CQ and are more likely perceived as leaders, both of which seem to be skills that are in high demand in today’s multicultural world. People who maintained a global identity did also well in our study, demonstrating that global identity can even compensate for any imbalances and different configurations on the level of cultural identities.

Speculating on the possible overarching implications of our study, wouldn’t we all benefit from consciously managing our identities for the better? For example, could we keep our identities more in balance, and instead of being Black or European or Cosmopolitan, try to be black and European and cosmopolitan? Or alternatively, can we somewhat lower our levels of identification so we suffer less from identity threats? Finally, don’t we have enough common goals, such as ending poverty, solving the refugee crisis, and managing climate change, to support our common global identity?

If I had a wish, then this is what I would hope for in 2019. In this regard, happy holidays and a great start to 2019!

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