By Jason Lim

Being a Tottenham and Son Heung-min fan (who isn't), I found the scene of Son embracing his English Premier League teammate from Uruguay, Rodrigo Bentancur, before their World Cup match familiar but interesting. Son is well-known for being a team player and having warm relationships with his teammates. However, no one bats an eye when a player recalibrates his allegiance and does his best to beat his teammate who is now on the opposite side of the turf. Actually, the same would apply if Son was sold to another club, and had to play against his old team.

This is obvious and expected since the context of the allegiance has now shifted. In the case of the World Cup, it has shifted from the club to the nation, which is generally considered a higher level of allegiance than the one predicated on a club affiliation, which is primarily a business relationship. So, an affiliation based on nationality is deemed to be of a higher calling than one based on bread and butter, although it's the latter that actually gives you the means to make a successful and privileged living.

It's also apparent that national affiliation is placed on a higher level than ethnic affinity since you see many African players on various European teams. In the olden days, nationality and ethnicity were one and the same since nationality was usually organized around nationality. So, belonging to a nation still matters.

Our lives are made up of differing layers of meaning based on multiple such allegiances. A sense of belonging is crucial and primal to one's well-being. Attachment theory even tracks an individual's relationship patterns to the attachment that they experienced to their primary caregiver when they were an infant. You start your life belonging to your family, your extended family, your school, your clubs, your organizations, your company, your military unit, your alumni groups and any other organizations that you are connected to. In fact, that's how you are defined and described in your life.

Imagine that you had to introduce yourself to total strangers but couldn't use any affiliations, connections or relationships. You can't describe yourself as a parent, as an employee, as an expert in some subject matter, as a member of some organization, as a position, as a title, etc. You will soon find yourself realizing that you can't do this. You can't define yourself without your affiliations, connections or relationships because you are the sum of them. In short, you are your affiliations.

This concept is best articulated through a 1993 observation made by Fred Kofman and Peter Senge: "We are startled to discover that at the core of the person, at the center of selfhood, there is nothing, pure energy. When we reach into the most fundamental basis of our being we find a pregnant void, a web of relationships. When somebody asks us to talk about ourselves, we talk about family, work, academic background, sports affiliations, etc. In all this talk, where is our 'self'? The answer is nowhere because the self is not a thing, but as Jerome Brunner says, 'a point of view that unifies the flow of experience into a coherent narrative' ― a narrative striving to connect with other narratives and become richer."

And all these narratives form a unique pattern that defines who we are to ourselves. Others see our pattern and define us by how our pattern intermeshes with their own respective patterns. Which is why our allegiances can vary according to contexts without self-contradictions. We do not really exist without this pattern of relationships. In short, we do not exist without one another. It's from these affiliations that we derive our meaning.

However, it seems that we are deriving less and less of our meaning from our affiliations. Pew Research Center analysis surveys asking people around the world the question, "What about your life do you currently find meaningful, fulfilling or satisfying? What keeps you going and why?" In the U.S. in 2021, fewer Americans mention spouses, significant others, finances, jobs or travel as a source of meaning in life than in 2017 ― these are literally the things that we enmesh ourselves in for meaning-making. Instead, more Americans tout freedom and independence as a source of meaning in life. While this isn't bad in itself, it does point to the demotion of affiliations compared to the promotion of the individual.

South Korea actually made news based on this survey last year when it showed that Korea, along with Taiwan, chose material well-being as the biggest source of meaning, followed by health and family. Taiwan chose family as second. Basically, the most fundamental affiliation that we are born into ― family ― has now taken a backseat to those metrics, which place more importance on "me" the individual than any affiliations.

This is in line with the trend in industrialized societies where the family structure has been atomized more and more to the individual. However, it does leave me wondering what happens to the meaning-making in our lives when we can witness, in the World Cup, that belonging still matters, especially on a higher level.


Jason Lim (jasonlim@msn.com) is a Washington, D.C.-based expert on innovation, leadership and organizational culture.




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World Cup and affiliations

25 0 13
27.11.2022
By Jason Lim

Being a Tottenham and Son Heung-min fan (who isn't), I found the scene of Son embracing his English Premier League teammate from Uruguay, Rodrigo Bentancur, before their World Cup match familiar but interesting. Son is well-known for being a team player and having warm relationships with his teammates. However, no one bats an eye when a player recalibrates his allegiance and does his best to beat his teammate who is now on the opposite side of the turf. Actually, the same would apply if Son was sold to another club, and had to play against his old team.

This is obvious and expected since the context of the allegiance has now shifted. In the case of the World Cup, it has shifted from the club to the nation, which is generally considered a higher level of allegiance than the one predicated on a club affiliation, which is primarily a business relationship. So, an affiliation based on nationality is deemed to be of a higher calling than one based on bread and butter, although it's the latter that actually gives you the means to make a successful and privileged living.

It's also apparent that national affiliation is placed on a higher level than ethnic affinity since you see many African players on various European teams. In the olden days, nationality and ethnicity were one and the same since........

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