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Building Value-Base Identity in a Globalized World

21 Dec 2016

Building Value-Base Identity in a Globalized World

21 Dec 2016


Social and psychological factors concerning group and individual identity are recognised to be critical in creating a cohesive society. Both individuals and groups recognize religion and ethnicity are powerful expressions of identity. Although, religion and ethnicity are cited as uniting and help build cohesion in many societies, they also have been a source of division within and among societies.[1]  In today’s globalized world we are seeing a need to create a more value-based identity that works to unify people around shared ideas and should become a focal point at intersections where identities are formed and reinforced. This Insight examines approaches that help young adolescents construct a unifying value-based identity including strategies that promote unity through mutual values rather than focusing on divisive elements of identity.

Nurturing qualities that convey a positive perspective of the “other” and help construct a collaborative identity among societies are key. Family, community and education are the three broad structures identified that can contribute a great deal to the promotion of value–based identities.  Identity development does not take place in a social vacuum, rather it is a result of development over many years and experiences that extends from childhood to adulthood. Although all individuals develop multiple identities, some of these identities dominate and become salient depending on the environment. Ruthellen Josselson defines identity as a “dynamic fitting together of parts of the personality with the realities of the social world so that a person has a sense both of internal coherence and meaningful relatedness of the real world.”[2]  In general, many of us construct our identity based on shared values, beliefs, or concerns, which includes but not limited to religion, political ideologies, nationality, or culture. In this light, in a multi-cultural and globalized world, outcomes like wanting to belong, integrate and be proud to share the same destiny are important in establishing happy and stable communities.

As mentioned, by the time one reaches adulthood, he/she has multiple identities, their relative importance and compatibility differs in various times and circumstances. Nevertheless, increased identification enables one to think, feel and respond like the other developing what is known as collective identity. [3] This developed collective identity helps individuals empathize strongly with others as well as incorporating parts of their own identity. Therefore, identity development is an outcome of many functions interacting like family, culture, and environment over the course of time.[4] However, the central task is to enable youth to take on a role in the society, become mature member of the social group[5] and share common future, which is all possible by embracing value-based identity.  Youth need to feel engaged and part of a wider multi-ethnic society. Herewith, exploring and understanding their own and others’ identities at a younger age is proven fundamental to education for diversity, essentially critical to constructing their own interpretations of the world around them and their place within that world.[6] In a globalized world and within diverse communities, fostering an identity that welcomes and embraces constructive values like tolerance, dialog, respect human rights and the value of applying critical thinking is without a doubt key to building a stable and peaceful future among different cultures, religions and societies.

In the turbulence of today’s world, an effective way to counter divisions and conflict within and between societies is to promote value-based identities where common values across humanity become salient and unifying and not divisive.  The development of such value-based identities starts in the family unit and at early stages of development. It should continue within schools where characters that contribute to building value-based identities can be taught and exemplified and most importantly the role that government and local businesses can play as they provide the tools to reinforce these practices.

On the family and community level

Family functioning has a great effect on adolescent identity.[7] Family cohesion, positive communication and parental involvement with adolescents all measure up to how well a family functions and evidently leads to a positive and coherent sense of identity. Youth gain their knowledge and inspiration mainly from parents [8] and historical figures.  Thus, family is the starting ground for building and enhancing a healthy form of identity. At the same time, there is increasing evidence that terrorist organizations are drawing school aged youth into their ranks all around the world,[9] which is the age when personalities and values are shaped.  Youth are constantly searching for identity, efficacy, value, and self-worth so they can fit in to groups or part of a community. As they start feeling marginalized and observe themselves or people they care about struggle with injustices,[10] they become easy targets for extremists or other negative influences. Most of those young people become misguided to believe that there is an identity conflict and it is a matter of “us versus them.”  Parents need to support cultural identity within the family and be able to answer their children’s questions about their religious, political and cultural heritage.

In a world of social media, technology influences and marketing saturation, it is recognized that the influence of mums has gone up with the emerging generations.  Younger generations report being even more shaped by their mothers than older ones.  A mothers’ role is important in helping integrate the old with the new and explore within a safe environment, particularly in progressive changing communities due to displacement triggered either by conflicts or economic needs.  Due to their influence within the family’s life, women are able to shape religious interpretations and religious traditions in ways that is often overlooked.[11] Hence, educating women is critical in spreading a value-based identity among family members. Indeed, gender roles are important in shaping the identity of growing youth. Women and men are often bound by specific expectations and roles within society, which are commonly rooted. While mitigating the potentially divisive impact of the emotional investment in religious, ethnic identities, young people need the influence of their parent’s traditional values and the influence of friends from the diverse community for contemporary expression[12] as both are key to developing a balanced sense of identity. It is about building bridges with others and families must teach this at home first.

Building culturally competent community means changing how people think about other cultures, how they communicate, and how they operate. Organized community events include providing families with an access to programs that support and educate parents and especially women at all levels. Engagement should be  one ways to help young people shape and build pride in their own identity that  not only serve them for the rest of their lives, but also an  important counter violent extremism strategy. Women are most likely to lead this process of bringing families and communities together. They are the best agents to bridge gaps and establish a well-balanced basis for an identity that will make youth thrive in constantly changing communities and diverse societies. Spreading a value-based identity does not contradict with familial engagement in cultural and religious activities like cooking, arts or music but rather helps enhance multiculturalism and coexistence even bridging faith- related differences. Individuals will gain a better sense of own identity while getting an opportunity to understanding the “other” without prejudices and racism. Qualities like strong sense of identity and high self-esteem provide individuals the drive to engage in own community and display own culture and ethnic background.[13] Continuous community and family involvement and engaging young people in various activities contributes positively to the development of healthy sense of identity among youth.

Family and community relationships are critical determinants in the process of healthy identity development among youth.  The active engagement between the two can set an atmosphere for youth to interact with others and feel safe to express opinions and share own culture and arts with other members in the community. Adults and community members have a great responsibility in addressing youth concerns and giving them the opportunity to be part of decision making in issues that affect them and their peers.  As leaders in the community develop programmes to engage young individuals, a sense of belonging and eventually boost loyalty will to the shared values that bonds all community members regardless of race or religion will prevail.

On the Education System Level

Education can be utilized to build resilience and further the creation of social cohesion in multi-ethnic, multi-cultural societies. Social cohesion, reflected in national unity, national cohesion, social harmony, internal social peace, unity in diversity, and unity and reconciliation are increasingly understood as ideas that welcome the contributions of multiple national identities into a bigger and broader one.

Accommodating students from varied backgrounds and cultures is a challenge for both policy makers, education planners and teachers, especially when all students are taught in the same classrooms.[14] But this is an opportunity too. Cultural gaps between students or students and their teachers can be bridged in classroom environments, as simple lesson centred on the value of tolerance unite those students in the classroom and discounts differences.  It is a chance to promote identity-based values while respecting individuality. This is critical to helping young students become global citizens and empowering them to function in a multi-cultural world. Programs and projects that focus on the advantages of cultural diversity, celebrates the contributions of each culture, encourage the positive outcomes of interacting with many cultures, and support the sharing of ideas among each culture. To teach a value-based identity, schools have to commit to continuing programming, evaluation, and provide a place that is inclusive of all cultures and celebrates diversity.

Education curriculum that utilizes strategies to build resilience and spread values centred on coexistence, problem solving, cultural and religious tolerance in addition to building the human capital and employable citizens, are all needed for building a healthy and sustainable economy that leaves nobody behind and thus empowers all citizens. In this regard, collective identity is a social accomplishment that is subject to change as patterns of interaction (co-orientation) change. Collective identity may at times appear to be stable, but this stability is a function of sustained interaction patterns, not an inherent property of the organization that exists outside its current membership and organizing practices.

In a global society, civic education becomes crucial.[15] It provides youth with a framework for a collective civic identity and therefore fosters tolerance and the willingness to negotiate and compromise. The development of civic education curricula stresses critical thinking and problem solving which combats issues like sectarianism, conflict and thereby contributes to national unity. Effective civic education curriculum should be introduced across all subjects with trained educators who can facilitate a better understanding of these values in daily practices, thinking and decision-making. Reinforcing values connected to ethics, personal and community development, culture and heritage coupled with civic education helps build a sense of belonging, value- based identities. Therefore, training teachers is crucial to successful building of value-based identities. In Singapore, ministry of education adopted ‘Thinking Schools, Learning Nation’[16] in order to develop critical and creative thinking among diverse students population, key to knowledge-based economy. Using Instructional technology and implementing integrated project work as a way of integrating the content areas of the curriculum, mathematics and science through English language, supported by the tools of instructional technology. This approach aimed and succeeded in nurturing knowledge- based economy, strong sense of team spirit, a respect for every talent, and toughness of character amongst students at the same time it was a unifying theme for a national, collective identity.[17]

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), a firm believer in empowering youth, its future leaders, for global challenges. As a key step in that direction, the UAE leadership called on a moral education curriculum to be implemented. Moral education , a new subject to be taught in UAE schools aims to keep young  Emiratis away from sectarianism, intolerance and destructive ideas, and drives the young citizens to contribute to the UAE’s successful development process. By teaching character and ethics the curriculum introduces a wholesome framework for a globalized citizen with strong identity. HH Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development stressed the importance of initiating such a program and the impact of teacher’s creativity in reaching the intended outcomes:

“A true multi-cultural education would expose children to the realities of other cultures and value systems so that coexistence and appreciation of others value values. Educators can help create positive multicultural learning communities”.

Education aims to prepare the younger generation of the UAE to become critical, independent and innovative thinkers for a future, in which the creative potential of every citizen is required, shared future, key to collective identity.

On the Government Level

Belonging is the desire to be part of some communal form.  ‘Belonging can connect people to others around them, as well as leading to a sense of being valued, recognised and listened to’.[18]  Part of the government’s role in the community is to help with the development of salient shared characteristics and group consciousness that together form the ingredient to develop an inclusive identity based on shared values not divisive ones.  To achieve this, Governments must actively engage youth on issues that matter to them, and rally them to contribute to the community. Inspiring a culture of volunteerism and philanthropy is one approach that will help establish sense of belonging, creates a broader identity that encompasses all different aspect of community.

The challenge for government is to create an environment where groups are motivated and enabled to engage in discussion of matters affecting their lives. In a globalized world and the context of advancement in technology is important that young people understand how they fit in with others and engage with issues concerning the wider world.  For young people to make sense of their identity and develop a sense of belonging,[19] youth should be able to establish a relationship between global processes and their local experiences.[20]  Local governments have the responsibility of helping youth make the connection between ‘social status and identities as individuals’ with the ‘lives and concerns of others with whom they share a sense of community’. This will contribute to building value- based identities and global citizens. Governments also should proactively address the grievances and injustices and help vulnerable communities reinforce the sense of identity that encompasses shared values regardless of ethnicity or race.

Globalization and diversity should be seen as an opportunity to assert and strengthen local culture identities while values like tolerance and coexistence are celebrated. This is particularly important for the UAE. The UAE demographics have changed, driven by the vast economic growth and region political changes, many Emirati nationals feel an identity threat. In terms of the UAE nationals, youth make up 52.9 per cent.[21]  UAE Ministry of Culture Youth and Community Development key objectives emphasises the importance of preserving the national identity by encouraging young people to actively participate in upholding their country’s cultural heritage through a range of programmes. Programs focuses on culture and heritage to help build awareness and resilience among youth and appreciation of the forefathers’ sacrifices and struggles.  Many activities and programs introduced in the UAE have been aimed at creating cultural exchange and better understanding between expatriates from different backgrounds and the local community. As an example, the Al Qasimi Foundation,[22] engages in programs and events that seek to bridge community gaps. Programs like Community Gatherings Series and Annual Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival  help bring Ras Al Khaimah residents together, as well as given the opportunity to exchange ideas and gain knowledge about the local community.  Events such as these demonstrate a commitment and cohesion between different parts of society without any one group having to abandon its own heritage and identity.  Rather, an  emphasis on the common values that build stronger community bonds.



In conclusion, the transformation of multi-ethnic societies into unified ones requires identifying valuable and shared concerns like the importance of stability, security, economic and human development.  Youth are recognized as the drivers of change therefore, they should have the tools, support and platform to construct a value-based identity. Working towards the construction of strong value-based identity help nurture coexistence, tolerance and open dialogue which is a key to stability and combating extremism.  The family unit, education and governments should interact to develop, reinforce and support all citizens and empower youth in particular. They cannot do it alone.

Problem solving skills, critical thinking and dialogue are mechanisms to counter identity based conflicts.  As families provide the foundation to develop identity among youth, community has a great role in establishing a framework for engagement and building bridges among socially diverse populations. The education system and educators provide young people with the tools to build a healthy identity that appreciate shared values and interests rather than divisive ones.  Building a strong sense of belonging among youth helps them overcome racial and religious prejudices. Enforcing government’s public policy aimed at creating identity-based identities should support what parents and teachers have taught youth. There must be congruence. Government involvement is part of protecting the rights of citizens, providing equal opportunities for participation and reinforcing the value-based identity elements that build a greater sense of belonging. At these intersections, the transition from identities that are divisive to ones that are more inclusive begins.


[2]Josselson, Ruthellen. Finding herself: Pathways to identity development in women. Jossey-Bass, 1987.

[3] Deutsch, Morton, Peter T. Coleman, and Eric C. Marcus, eds. The handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice. John Wiley & Sons, 2011.

[4]Sameroff, Arnold. “A unified theory of development: A dialectic integration of nature and nurture.” Child development 81.1 (2010): 6-22.

[5] Larson, Reed W., et al. “Changes in Adolescents’ Interpersonal Experiences: Are They Being Prepared for Adult Relationships in the Twenty‐First Century?” Journal of Research on Adolescence 12.1 (2002): 31-68.

[6] Ajegbo, K, Kiwan, D & Sharma, S (2007) Diversity and Curriculum Review, DfES, London.

[7] Adams GR, Munro B, Doherty-Poirer M, Munro G, Petersen AMR, Edwards J. Diffuse-avoidance, normative, and informational identity styles: Using identity theory to predict maladjustment.

[8] Rubin, Beth C. “There’s still not justice”: Youth civic identity development amid distinct school and community contexts.” Teachers College Record109.2 (2007): 449-481.

[9] Bott, Catherine, et al. “Recruitment and radicalization of school aged youth by international terrorist groups.” Final Report 23 (2009).

[10] Baumeister, R. F. (1991). Meanings of Life. Guilford Press.


[12] King, Anthony D., ed. Culture, globalization and the world system: Contemporary conditions for the representation of identity. Vol. 3. U of Minnesota Press, 1991.

[13] Ethier, Kathleen A., and Kay Deaux. “Negotiating social identity when contexts change: Maintaining identification and responding to threat.” Journal of personality and social psychology 67.2 (1994): 243.

[14]Inglis, Christine. Planning for cultural diversity. Vol. 87. Paris: UNESCO, 2008.


[16] Singapore, ministry of education adopted ‘Thinking Schools, Learning Nation

[17]Velayutham, Selvaraj. Responding to globalization: nation, culture, and identity in Singapore. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2007.

[18] Buonfino, A (with Thomson, L) (2007) Belonging in Contemporary Britain, Commission on Integration and Cohesion, London.

[19] Ajegbo, K, Kiwan, D & Sharma, S (2007) Diversity and Curriculum Review, DfES, London.

[20] Bourn, Douglas. “Young people, identity and living in a global society.” Policy & Practice-A Development Education Review 7 (2008).



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