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How americans Can discover What They have actually in Common

Can we bridge distinctions without suppressing what provides us different in the very first place? Yes, say social scientists and also civic organizations.

You are watching: What do they have in common

By Zaid Jilani | July 3, 2019

The 2002 movie My big Fat Greek Wedding resonated with countless people about the world—it retains the location of the highest-grossing romantic comedy in history. Why? Perhaps because its central conflict is one that plenty of couples have actually endured.


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In the film, Greek-American Toula Portokalos falls in love with a non-Greek called Ian Miller. What ensues is a classic clash the cultures, as Miller struggles to win over Portokalos’s hostile family.

Ultimately, the pair overcomes this barrier and they happily wed. At the wedding, Toula’s father defines how he concerned terms with the truth that his daughter would be component of an intercultural family.


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He notes that the source of the word “Miller” is Greek because that apple, and also the name Portokalos comes from the Greek word for orange. The concludes, “So, okay, here tonight us have, uh, apple and also orange . . . We all different, however in the end, us all fruit!” The wedding party applauds in approval.

This is an example of what society scientists speak to “superordinate identity”—a common identity in between groups the transcends the an ext narrow, details identities the seem to divide them. Portokalos acknowledges the the two sides that the brand-new family come native distinct and also proud cultures—an apple and also an orange—but the they additionally share a larger, superordinate identification in common: fruit! Toula and also Ian deserve to value the cultures they flourished up in but also adopt a bigger shared society they will produce with their brand-new family.

Focusing on shared identities is a valuable way for people in diverse societies to bridge their distinctions without shedding or suppressing what provides them various in the an initial place. Doing so enables us come come in addition to people who we formerly imagined we had nothing in usual with—which research says can open the door to higher empathy and also cooperation. Today, organizations like much better Angels and also Citizen college are placing these scholastic insights to work-related in trying come remind separated Americans what they have actually in common.

The root of in-group concept

In 1993, a team of researcher laid the end what they dubbed the “common in-group model” of reducing bias. Samuel Gaertner and colleagues noted that numerous of society’s prejudices to be based not just on contempt for “out-groups”—groups we watch as various from ourselves—but on favoring our “in-groups.”

Thus, castle hypothesized the “if members of different groups space induced to conceive of themselves as a solitary group quite than two fully separate groups, mindsets toward previous out-group members will become much more positive through processes involving pro-in-group bias.”

Through a selection of studies and experiments involving both in-groups and out-groups, Gaertner and also his partners found that, “in general, more powerful conceptions that the accumulation as a single group directly related to much more positive feelings toward out-group members.”

In among these studies, the team check a multi-ethnic high school and surveyed students around how lock conceived of relationships within the school. They found that the degree to i beg your pardon the students in ~ the institution felt favor one huge cohesive group was substantially related to an ext positive feelings toward out-groups. Top top the other hand, “the level to i m sorry students perceived the school to be written of different groups was negatively connected . . . To good feelings towards the out-groups.”

More recent studies have found comparable effects from being able to imagine that two distinct groups room actually part of a larger shared identity. In 2005, a team the British researchers studied just how social group memberships influence behavior. They concentrated on a popular British pastime: soccer.

They collection up a pair of experiments based on the rivalry in between two renowned teams: Manchester United and Liverpool FC. In the early experiment, participants—all that whom to be partisans for among those two teams—were presented through the chance to assist an injured jogger. The experimenters discovered that the entrants were more likely to assist the jogger if he or she to be wearing the jersey that the participant’s favorite football team, as opposed to once the jersey belonged come the competitor team.

In the succeeding experiment, the participants were reminded of your identities as soccer fans—a superordinate, common identity. As could be expected, lock were more likely to aid the injured fan of a rival team 보다 they were to help someone that wasn’t a soccer fan at all.

In other words, the participants to be redefining their in-group: In the very first experiment, they characterized their in-group together fans of a particular soccer team; in the second, they determined with people who appreciated the same sport. In both instances, they were more likely to aid someone indigenous the in-group 보다 someone native their regarded out-group.

One of the researchers, college of Lancaster society psychologist mark Levine, suggests that your finding has actually implications well past soccer. “Making these categories much more inclusive, enhancing the limits of shared identity, is the thing which boosts the likelihood the you having a much an ext inclusive sense of social obligation,” the says. “These are human being who are component of her group and also you need to assist them.”

One of the difficulties of concentrating on common identities, however, is knowing when and how to deploy this skill. Over there are circumstances where it might not be suitable to focus specifically on mutual identities, especially when a minority group is gift denied some legal rights or privileges by a bulk group.

“I think often . . . Promotion of common identities deserve to undermine the willingness of human being to engage in cumulative action,” Levine says. If they feel that their identities or involves are being made invisible through the superordinate identity, “it provides the minority group less keen to engage in social readjust and social protest.”

Appealing come our “better angels”

These insights haven’t continued to be in scholastic journals. Today in the joined States, politics polarization has degraded the concept of a shared identity among Americans, to the level that even cross-partisan marriages are increasingly uncommon. There room a handful of institutions working to remind Americans what they have actually in common.

One of lock is far better Angels, which started after the an unfavorable and polarizing 2016 election. Ten trump backers and also 11 Clinton supporters acquired together in a an are in southern Lebanon, Ohio, come talk around their common ground. The supporters learned that they liked each other, and also they want to proceed meeting. Soon, this collaboration grew into much better Angels, i beg your pardon holds events all end America come encourage people to have the ability to find commonality and better understand civilization who room on the various other side the the politics aisle native them. It draws its surname from Abraham Lincoln’s very first inaugural address, where he authorize a passionate plea to protect against the farming conflict in between the North and the South.

We room not enemies, however friends. We must not it is in enemies. Though enthusiasm may have actually strained it should not rest our bond of affection. The mystic chords of memory, extending from every battlefield and patriot grave come every living heart and also hearthstone everywhere this wide land, will certainly yet swell the chorus of the Union, as soon as again touched, together surely they will be, by the much better angels of ours nature.

One of the organization’s programs is the Red/Blue workshops. In a common workshop, around fifty percent a dozen Republican-leaning citizens and half a dozen Democratic-leaning citizens obtain together and participate in practice designed to develop bridges. One sample practice is referred to as the “fishbowl,” where one of the two teams sits in the middle and also discusses when the other team sits on the perimeter and quietly observes. The two teams then move places. Afterwards, both sides are invited to describe what they learned around the other.

John Wood, Jr., is the director of media advance at far better Angels. That is the boy of an African-American liberal mother, and a white conservative father, and he considers both of these distinct identities as having actually shaped his worldview and personal identity.

Earlier in life, that held much more liberal politics and supported the election of Barack Obama to the presidency; more recently, the adopted an ext conservative viewpoints and ran for Congress together a Republican in 2014.

To Wood, the job of building a common American identity is not just what he has personally had to do, but a means out of much of the political polarization that has gripped the country. He believes that partisans have more in common than castle believe.

“Something that seems pretty clean to me is the there perform seem to be seminal themes or worths that really execute . . . Jump across one side of the political aisle come the other,” he says. “Fundamentally, liberty and also equality, or freedom and equality, and justice as well, are few of the primary examples. They just tend come express themselves in different ways in the context of politics.”

His worry is the American identification is sometimes claimed by one next or the other, as if you cannot have actually an equal insurance claim on America itself unless you hold details beliefs.

“What’s taken place is our political narratives have advanced in a means to whereby the 2 sides essentially say the there’s only one legitimately American expression the these value sets,” he says. “Therefore, if friend don’t have a conservative vision of liberty or a liberal vision that equality, you’re no authentically American in the means you’re articulating this things.”

Wood recognizes the difficulty of structure shared identification in this diverse country, and also doing for this reason in a method that doesn’t make people feel favor their own distinct identities space being trampled on.

“Implicit in the work-related of better Angels is the idea that pluralism chin is type of in ~ the love of American identity,” hardwood says. Castle don’t firmly insist that any type of participant ~ pretend to be something castle not. Instead, they try to facilitate progressively constructive dialogues across groups, to move from what separates lock to discover what they have actually in common.

Building a shared identification as citizens

The challenge, of course, is that the United says is very diverse country. Citizen university (CU) was established by civic activist Eric Liu in 2012 to try to bind Americans of every cultures and classes in addition to the ide of citizenship.

What is a citizen, according to CU?

“We space not talking about anything handling documentation status,” claims Kayla DeMonte, CU’s managing director. Instead, CU bring away “a more holistic view of folks who are contributing, members of your community, in public and civic life.” In bespeak to develop this sense of shared citizenship, much of the organization’s programming concentrates on what DeMonte describes as the “creed, the deeds, and also the rituals that comprise American civic life.”


One of their programs is called public Saturday, which is “meant to be a civic analogue to a confidence gathering,” DeMonte says. Human being from varied backgrounds come together for around 90 minutes, generally on a Saturday morning, and participate in tasks designed to construct a mutual sense the community and also citizenship, such together talking to their neighbors, singing together, and also hearing poetry and also “civic sermons” together. Civic Saturdays started in Seattle where CU is based, but have been hosted in 30 urban since.

CU responds come the an obstacle of structure a shared identification in a heterogeneous country by spreading a vast net, defining its in-group as extensively as possible. DeMonte explains:

One the the points that we talk around in regards to . . . One “us” and a “them,” is the those who room in the “us” group are those who are picking to take part like a citizen. That method serving a gathering, joining together, communicating and arguing v each other in a productive way. And also the “them” are those who don’t. The great thing about that is that anybody can choose to end up being one of us by deciding come live like a citizen.

It deserve to be challenging to develop a common identity, particularly in a heterogeneous society that consists of all manner of people. And also it isn’t necessarily constantly the best approach—as Levine spicy out, social readjust movements often have to emphasize difference in order to speak to attention to inequities.

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My huge Fat Greek Wedding to be loosely motivated by the life that the star of the film, Nia Vardalos, a Greek-Orthodox woman who married a non-Greek man. “I have heard every single person’s interfaith marital relationship story,” claimed Vardalos throughout an interview to promote the film. “Whether castle married in ~ their faith or outside their faith, world are telling me, ‘That’s mine family’ or ‘That’s mine relationship.’”

Though we have tendency to think of americans as more divided than ever, in fact, inter-racial and also inter-ethnic marital relationships in the unified States have hit one all-time-high. This says that an ext and more apples and oranges in America room embracing a common identity together fruit—a real-world fact that should provide us even much more hope than did the conclusion the My large Fat Greek Wedding.