We are often referred to as “Social Creatures” because of our innate desire to feel like we belong to a group or community of other people.
This feeling of “belonging” comes in the form of identification, of believing that the group we belong to is an extension of our individual self.
Last night I found myself staying up all night watching Soccer matches from the World Cup. Growing up in a Latin family it’s become somewhat of a tradition through the years.
In fact, in High School Soccer was an obligatory sport to participate in. Through time I grew fairly proficient at playing it, receiving a few scholarships to travel and play in junior leagues. But I never quite fully understood the fanaticism that surrounds this game, or any game for that matter.
The Beauty of Sports
For me, playing Soccer provided an opportunity to channel all my adolescent excess of energy into, an outlet to immerse myself in with complete absorption in the present moment.
The feeling is like when you experience an adrenaline rush: there’s no room for thoughts in your mind, your brain automatically becomes overwhelmed by the present stimulation.
But I always wondered, why do other people enjoy watching us play? Or why do so many people I know get so absorbed and aggressively defensive of their teams?
In the mean time, the more I watched sports, the more I developed the appreciation for the structuring of the game. A sport field is almost like a self-contained mini-world in which there exists an order that we cannot experience in our real, chaotic life.
The mental allure in sports is well-refined; there’s a clear set of rules that we can all understand. Nowhere else will you find a mini-world that is so sharply defined and the parameters so firm. Every action has clear implications and makes the viewers certain of what is really good and bad. Apart from that, each team has a Hero or group of Heroic individuals that are idolized because of their superior talents or skills.
Emotionally, the attraction is much more beneficial. It provides an environment for us to release any repressed or built up emotions by cheering for our teams. The team we support becomes a catalyst for arousing emotions within us that we can express as part of a group.
I also noticed that the more I played, the more I began to feel like a soldier going to war. Sports are a modern battlefield. While it is more civilized and gentlemanly, it is still an Us Versus Them mentality.
At the end of each match half the stadium would leave celebrating and the other crying; a roller coaster of emotions that they had played no part in to earn or deserve except from passive-aggressive observance. That’s when I realized I didn’t enjoy playing competitive sports any more.
The Risks of Identification
The moment you identify with a belief, a team or a country you are giving up control by putting your happiness in the hands of others. Not only that, but it encourages and supports the attitude of group separation, of “Us Versus Them” and in doing so creates endless strife and friction.
An example of this can be found in military and political leader Simón Bolívar. Bolivar was a man who led Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia to independence from the Spanish Empire. Many claim he helped lay the foundations for democracy in most of Latin America.
Simón Bolívar had a dream; that of uniting the five main Latin american republics into one whole free and independent county much like the USA, in order to make it a world power. His dream could have provided an immense economical wealth for South America that suffers from such great poverty and economical imbalance.
But unfortunately his dream failed. It’s amazing: it seems illogical that the European Nations having countries that speak different languages, have different religions and different origins could unite together successfully – but five countries that speak the same language, have the same religion and origins couldn’t.
Interestingly, most of the failure is attributed to the immense, passionate identification that exists in the Latin culture with their own countries, resulting in absurd xenophobias (dislike of people from other countries and cultures), ridiculous regionalisms and petty founded wars between themselves.
Another reason for the failure of uniting these countries was the immense social corruption that existed (and still exists) within these countries. Social statuses and appearances are the foundation of these Latin countries. The desire for egotistical admiration from others due to superior economical or genetic status rules at large.
This is exactly all that defines identification: the desire to feel part of a large, usually elite, group of people: from teams and religions, to countries and psychological types.
The irrational idea is that your country is better that others simply because you were born into it. That your belief is better than others just because YOU chose it. This implies that whatever you identify with is superior to others identifications because you consider it an extension of yourself.
Life Without Identification
Identification is merely an extension of your ego, it is not a true act of self-love.
The more you travel, the more you experience, the more you’ll realize that we all have a tendency to identify ourselves with our origins, without being aware of it. It is our primal instinct to feel we have a “home turf”, just as every animal protects his own territory.
But as we evolve, as we grow and develop the understanding we have of ourselves, and in the process others as well, we see through the superficial instincts of embracing beliefs that create friction between ourselves and others. They become less appealing.
We also learn to find more healthier outlets of emotions, new ways of catharsis; perhaps in the form of meditation, dancing or exercising, to name a few.
You’ll also begin to notice that when you simply appreciate sports, you don’t have that necessity to identify with a team. Your appreciation of sports becomes much more centred, much more whole and free from the attachment of expectations.
You don’t feel dragged around in stimulation seeking roller-coasters of happiness or sadness, but instead simply admire the skills of both teams and support the one that exhibits the most talent, without pre-conceived ideas of who should win versus who shouldn’t.
This, at least, is my own experience and I’ve found it to be immensely beneficial in the way I perceive life now. Without any limiting borders or boundaries that identification creates, life is much more whole.
Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences regarding identification below!