Once your identity is tied up with theirs, they have you.
Ever been approached by a salesperson in a department store? They blabber on about whatever you’re considering buying, saying things like, “our coats are designed to keep you warm and look good.” Or, “we are one of the most popular brands in the world.”
Pity the person who lets ‘I’ become ‘We’.
It means that they’ve merged their identity with something else. They’ve become an extension of a brand, an ideology, an idea, a community.
Paul Graham makes this point in his essay ”Keep Your Identity Small”. He discusses why it’s so difficult to have an objective discussion about religion and politics: Because the individual’s beliefs are a part of their identities.
When something forms part of us, we become unable to discuss it, to tolerate challenge or criticism concerning it, to consider it with neutrality and detachment.
Want to get someone up in arms? Tell them you don’t think they should have kids. You don’t have to believe it. Just try and initiate a discussion about it. It won’t happen. People take it as an infringement on their inviolable rights.
And that’s the problem. We aren’t very good at separating our sense of self from the labels we give ourselves and the ideas we love. Any attack on them is an attack on us.
But you aren’t the brands you wear and use. You aren’t the postcode you live in. You aren’t the sport you play or the hobbies you have. You aren’t the company you work for or the profession you work in. You aren’t your religion or your education or the ideas you subscribe to.
All these things are just labels, categories, groups. They are separate entities. They are not you. Don’t confuse them. Don’t let ‘I’ become ‘we’ or ‘us’.
Because as Paul Graham concluded, “The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.”