Me…We…and Thee – Experience Creates…and Shifts…Our Relational Identities
In Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age, Bruce Feiler offers an interesting conceptualization of relational identities: me, we, and thee.
ME is a focus on one’s self, an individual’s goals and aspirations and efforts to achieve/fulfill them. He suggests folks focused on the unfolding of their individual story, the particulars of their life narrative, tend to value having agency in their lives – the freedom and capacities to shape their individual lives as they wish to. (About 50% of American society, according to his research.)
WE is a focus on relationships with family, friends, community, culture or tribe. Folks oriented toward WE focus on belonging, on inclusivity and loyalty to the group. (Another 20% of American society, according to his research.)
THEE is a focus on the larger society and the world. Folks embracing the larger perspective of Thee tend to commit to causes, to the common good, to the betterment of humanity and the world. (Another 30% of American society.)
(I would add THOU to this schema, a focus on our relationship to the sacred, the oneness of the universe, but that is another blog entirely.)
Feiler goes one step further himself in his schema of me, we, and thee, and the corresponding focus on agency, belonging, and cause, suggesting that the shape that would most express ME-agency would be a straight line, a trajectory of a life moving forward. (Or, as he suggests in Life Is in the Transitions, a life line that could get quite bumpy with disruptions and derailments.)
The shape most easily representing WE, and the focus on belonging, would be a circle. That’s rather archetypal wisdom. For THEE and committing to others in a good cause, Feiler suggests a star as in reaching for the stars.
What Feiler is really focusing on is how our life experiences constantly shape and shift these relational identities, often in ways that are quite unexpected and disruptive, and how we can create more balance among them as we mature and learn to integrate all three in a fuller identity. Many, many examples of someone happily jogging along in life, the me focus channeling energy and resources as is appropriate, until a devastating accident changes everything, especially creating a dependency on others, a new WE that might lead to a new THEE of mounting a national campaign to curb drunk driving.
What I focus on in teaching Resources for Recovering Resilience is finding the choices in those changes, either in how we respond to whatever event has just shifted our life trajectory and our relational identity.
How you respond to the issue….is the issue. – Frankie Perez
Or in choosing to create the experiences that will indeed shift those identities, especially creating more balance among those identities.
EXERCISE: Mind Mapping Relational Identities
From time to time, I create a mind map to explore for myself how well I’m balanced among the Me, We, and Thee (and Thou) modes of relating to people. Where I’m emphasizing agency, where I’m emphasizing belonging; where I’m emphasizing contributing to a cause. (Where I’m availing myself or neglecting spiritual practice.)
1. Assemble a very large sheet of white paper (25” x 30” flip chart paper works well) and colored pencils/pens/crayons/markers.
2. Take a moment to simply breathe, relax and settle into your body, open to a sense of presence with yourself, allowing, accepting, interested, curious.
2. Start wherever you wish on the paper – center, top/bottom, one side or the other, one corner or another. Start with whatever color of pencil, etc. you’re most drawn to.
3. Begin by drawing shapes on the paper, letting your intuition, your unconscious guide you. I often draw different sized bubbles, in different colors, in various places on the big sheet of paper. Let your intuition draw whatever shape expresses something important about you right now – a bubble, or a line, a circle, a smile, a star, a box, an arrow. You don’t have to know what these colors and shapes or sizes of the shapes mean yet.
4. Begin identifying the shapes as representing important aspects of your life right now – this large dark red box represents my job, this long blue squiggle represents my dog, this small brown oval represents my noisy neighbor, etc.
5. Notice any aspects of your life that are missing from the page and add them in, wherever they fit, whatever color or shape seems to fit.
6. Begin identifying which shapes have represent more of a Me (agency) focus; which represent more of a We (belonging) focus; which represent more of a Thee (contributing to a cause) focus.
7. Reflect on any discernable overall patterns: all of the We’s seem to be off to one side or are in mostly dark colors; the Thee is very large, but there is only one of them. Some Me’s are mid-sized, some are tiny – Oh, I guess I never thought of it that way before.
8. Begin to discern where you might like to make some changes; choosing to create more We experiences or blending the Me shapes into some of the We’s, etc.
There are no “should’s” about creating a mind map like this. It’s just a gentle way to elicit information from our unconscious about possibly shifting our relational identities, especially when they have been formed or sustained by somewhat unconscious habits or conditioning.