What is the WE? Simply the sum of many I's? That would be too short-sighted. Because if you add up many MEs, you always get a WE that is much stronger, smarter, more creative, more efficient or more innovative than the individual MEs.
If historian Yuval Noah Harari has his way, the WE is even the reason why the human species was able to be so successful in the history of the earth in the first place. Homo Sapiens was neither the most skillful nor the strongest human species. What set him apart from all others, however, was the ability to organize collectively. But what does it take for many MEs to form into a WE, a community? What is the unifying element of the WE? Is it the family? Is it enough followers on Facebook or Instagram? Is it a passport? Or an employment contract? Is this how the WE comes into being?
The WE is always created through a story.
The foundation of a WE is always a narrative that people believe in. A vision that they can follow. Stories create meaning and identity. And meaning and identity weld communities together. For this reason, behind the personal message "I am a Christian", "I am a Muslim" "I am a Buddhist" "I am an atheist" there is automatically also a community, a WE. This principle applies equally to nationalities. No human being is German, French or Italian at birth. WE are merely born into one history. In one story there are many Äs and Üs and Ös. In the other, the accent circonflexe or the accent grave. And in the third story - Mamma mia! - one emotional arc of tension follows the next. From then on, these stories shape our personality, our view of the world and thus also our sense of community. They decide whether WE eat with knife and fork or with chopsticks. Whether WE bow to each other in greeting, shake hands or fake cheek kisses? (How many are there on each side again?)
Why do stories have this strange power to connect people?
The stories WE tell ourselves, and which accompany us, are in fact offers of discourse. With our stories WE negotiate values ("Love your neighbour as yourself"), knowledge ("E=mc²"), traditions ("A toast, a toast, to Gemüütlichkeit"), our culture ("Human dignity is inviolable") and even our economic and political organisation ("All power emanates from the people."). Stories are able to bring order and structure to a chaotic world. They enable us to have control, security, and commitment. They enable us to trust one another.
The power of stories goes so far that we even believe in the existence of things we have never personally seen. For example, even though most of us have never set foot in a tax office in our lives, so have not yet personally convinced ourselves of the existence of this institution, WE transfer our money there month after month. Businesses also harness the special power of stories. Every advertising slogan, is nothing more than a little narrative designed to reinforce our faith in an image, in a product, or in the company itself. As these different stories, whether their origin is economic, political, cultural or private, permeate our lives, shaping the WE of our community.
The special thing about the stories that form our WE, however, is that they are changeable. A story that moved the world 60 years ago can be long forgotten today. (We shake our heads in disbelief when we hear that women in Germany in the 1950s still needed their husbands' permission to open their own bank accounts. Just as our great-grandchildren will look at us in the not-too-distant future with astonished eyes at the fact that WE burned gasoline to power cars for years without remorse). But there are also stories that survive several millennia and are still powerful. (Religions, for example.) The time period over which a story changes can last centuries, decades, or sometimes just weeks or days. Depending on how long the negotiations of the I, which wants to tell (its) story differently, with the WE last.
So what story do you want to tell about yourself?