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A value of autonomous choice to participate in a collective relatedness “we all”. (Series1, part 3)

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Catch up on part 1 here and part 2 here .

Welcome back to my mini blog series “Are we all truly in anything together”? In this post, I am going to explore the value of our free choice in taking part or being apart, and why it is what counts the most in any collective matter. (See my previous posts for broader background.)

To begin, I would like to share with you an example of my experience which has contributed to my strong belief that every person has the right to speak for themselves, and each individual should be therefore, asked for permission or consent to be included in any presumptive collective statements where “we all” is used. You may find this situation familiar.

There was a large group of students in my first university cohort. My fellow students differed greatly in age, culture, ethnicity, gender, and more, which unquestionably fostered an opportunity for tremendously diverse experiences among all individuals in the group.

Regardless of the diversity in the group, however, there were countless occasions when a student would stand up in front of the entire class and communicate to the tutors something such: as “we all felt let down”, or “we all felt disappointed”, “we all…, “we all…”, and so on claiming “we all”.

I remember feeling angry, feeling silenced, oppressed, and disrespected because I was not asked whether I wanted to be included in the collective statement “we all”. I did not feel the same. The opposite was the truth.

I did not feel let down and I did not feel disappointed (and so on); my individual voice was silenced and overridden by the collective “we all”. Without a choice, my individuality, and my individual experience were disregarded and overpowered by a collective ‘we’.

Collective value was forced to the highest priority and by doing so, the value of individuality was oppressed and diminished. The individuals who assumed and controlled the space by speaking for all, (without asking all for permission), were simply projecting their agenda on everybody else, creating a false sense of togetherness in “we all” statements.

I believe this little example demonstrates how easily it is to be unwillingly swept into an assumed collective relatedness and to lose one’s voice. Making collective assumptions can take place ‘innocently’, meaning no harm (making assumptions is one of many unhelpful human trades after all); but assumptions of collectivity will always leave some people feeling unseen, unheard, and silenced.

Even more importantly, statements of collective relatedness such as “we all” made by any type of authority (e.g., politicians, councilors, work leaders) could be highly manipulative, controlling, reality-distorting, hurtful, and simply untrue.

When authorities speak for others, they consequently silence all those who have not had an opportunity to speak. Here I would like to leave you with a question to reflect on: When did you last hear from a politician: “the public wants”, or “we all are in it together”?

Comments of projected collectiveness are there all the time, making people believe that “we all” exist. But it never does, especially when we consider human experience which, of course, is unique to each person.

The danger of proclaimed collective statements also happens in very small groups such as a partnership. In my therapeutic practice, I have worked with a large number of clients who have experienced various types of coercive control from their partners, parents, or others close to them. Controlling partners may silence the other by stating “We both want this…”, or “We both want or feel the same”.

In individual psychology, the projection of feelings such as “we both feel the same”, without asking the other person whether this statement is true, is recognised as controlling and oppressive!

It is rather perplexing that, in group dynamics, declarations of collectiveness (such as “We are all in it together” or “We all feel the same”) are generally accepted and commonly expressed on a daily basis without being challenged.

To close this blog series, I would like to invite you to my next write-up up where I will explore how to remain congruent and individual in an overly-collective society.

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