An individual’s identity is composed by a range of characteristics through which this individual is considered a member of a particular group. Building upon the fact that human beings are social, it can be agreed that there are collective identities, that are elaborated based on the characteristics shared by the members of distinct groups. Additionally, the construction of an identity is not static but rather it undergoes through a permanent process determined by the interactions of the members of any given group, by time and even location. In this sense, the elaboration often occurs by the recognition of similarities and differences between groups. As a result of the awareness acquired by a group, identities proceed to determine things such as what is acceptable and what isn’t, based on its traditions and customs. Finally, in a much greater and tangible scale, identities can forge nationalism which can result in great conflicts between nations.
Identities are shaped by the interaction of two or more different groups which results in the acknowledgment of their similarities and differences. The issue in this process lays in the recognition of differences and the little attention given to the similarities. This probably takes place because the differences are often perceived as a threat to our own identity as they can indirectly challenge or question our practices. Apart from this, the process can be said to develop the ‘self’ identity based on the recognition of the ‘other’. One builds itself by denying that particular thing that the ‘other’ is. Therefore, one possible source of conflict between different groups is the negative categorization of the differences. Individuals tend to give a negative burden to those characteristics that are not possessed by them. As a result, two phenomenons arise from the negative categorization of the differences. The first one is the cohesion of a group. In a certain way this happens as a protective reaction carried out by all of its members. The second phenomenon, however, not always occurs but can be the root of the conflict, it is the attempt of one group to change the other one or even worse, the attempt to eliminate it.
As a result of the processes that identities go through, behaviors and practices are legitimized, things as basic as a way to greet people or the food consumed are recognized and accepted. Sometimes, there are certain traits that are not recognized as their own and depending on the degree of the contrast, the actions towards these traits can go from simply overlooking, to rejecting or even trying to eliminate them. If the elimination of a feature is the way members of a group decide to act and it becomes a common and accepted practice then it becomes legitimate. Consequently, when a group legitimizes the attempts to eliminate other identities conflicts arise. Confrontations are the main mechanism through which different groups interact, thus conflicts escalate and up, to a certain extent, perpetuating themselves. One of the most striking features of this problem is that, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are constructed based on an identity. Added to that, it has to be acknowledged that once a set of ideas is so deeply embedded in one’s identity it is often very difficult to think differently.
In politics, identities are used on a daily basis to achieve political success. For instance, political parties often exacerbate specific sentiments through speeches and the use of certain rhetorics to be accepted by their constituencies. Politicians make a certain image of their political party and themselves so that they can be acceptable to a group of people that otherwise wouldn’t feel identified by them. In other situations, Politics require all the citizens of a nation to join forces to fight another nation. Normally, in times of conflict the values that represent an identity are reinforced and, just as it was mentioned before, cohesion within a nation occurs. Sometimes this goes to the extent that even disagreements between different groups within nation are ignored just for the fact of a greater danger faced from the outside. These actions are recognized as nationalism that goes beyond the love and pride of one’s nation and very often end up in the use of hate speeches and other practices that promote a discriminatory discourse.
Differences are not good or bad they are just variations on customs and practices; however, this is something very difficult to understand and accept. No identity, culture, or belief is better than any other, they are just divergent. The moment we start accepting our differences will be the moment when conflicts will not escalate so drastically. Conflicts are inevitable yet, what can be avoided is their escalation and harsh consequences. It could be easier to communicate among groups if differences would be praised as something valuable, as something that makes us unique rather than better or inferior. If members of different groups could accept, recognize and respect the distinctive feature of others, their interactions would be constructive instead of destructive.
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