Patriotism and Psychological Ownership

Red, white and black is now the color palette of Egypt; flags hung from balcony, drawn on faces, on t-shirts, on buildings, on cereal boxes and of course on cars. And all this is for a very obvious reason!

The momentous changes that Egypt has gone through stirred up strong patriotic feelings amongst the nation. This sense of patriotism was not a new thing for Egyptians, it has always been there, deeply buried within us, but the vigorous events shook these feelings out.

However, what baffles me is this..

Rear glass flag

Signs of extreme patriotism filled the air –no doubt, however, it seemed that the majority were patriotic to Egypt, a name given to a piece of land located in north Africa, and not Egypt a country that consists of citizens that live on a land located in north Africa. Do you spot the difference?!­

I always like to think of a country as a big organization, and I see a lot of similarities between employees’ behaviors and citizens’ behaviors. And that’s not a very far concept in business that sees it the other way around; using lessons observed from how citizens live and implementing them in organization structures –which explains terms like citizenship in organization management-

Psychological Ownership is a possessive feeling that something is ‘mine’; it’s different than legal ownership. Taking a cubicle in your workspace as an example, you don’t legally own it but it is ‘yours’. Possessions could be tangible like your childhood school, or intangible like an idea.

Studies have shown that if organizations use psychological ownership within the workplace, ie make their employees feel they own something within the organization, it will increase the employees’ loyalty, citizenship, performance and peer co-operation. The reason is that psychological ownership fulfills 3 basic human needs:  home (having a sense of place), efficacy and effectance, and self-identity.

In my opinion, Patriotism can be considered the equivalent of Psychological Ownership on the motherland. Referring to Egypt as ‘my’ country is a simple explanation. Take for example how we express our patriotism through words, saying things like ‘your nile runs through my veins’ shows a sense of ownership of the nile, at least part of it is in our bodies, which makes everything within the country ours, more or less psychologically.

Patriotism also provides the same three needs; of course you feel a sense of belonging in your own country, if you do consider it ‘yours’, it doesn’t matter if you legally own a piece of land or a house –which in many cases many Egyptians don’t- but you would still consider it yours, it’s an extension of you; a context where you are surround by objects that you can relate to. This is kind of related to the second need efficacy; feeling capable in specific areas. People who have lived abroad in a different culture have experienced this; you feel incapable of doing basic simple things because of language and/or cultural differences. It’s not your food, your language, your people, but once you start owning something in that country, just psychologically, when you feel a sense of belonging, you’ll feel more efficacious. And certainly patriotism fulfills the need of self-identification, the possessions you have in your country help identify your self, your language, your culture, your memories, your values and individuality, etc.

So similarly to psychological ownership, if we compare the results of the studies, high level of patriotism should result in high level of loyalty, citizenship, performance and peer co-operation.

Which brings us back to the photo.

There is no doubt that the majority of the nation are more loyal to their country, however, an increase of a sense of citizenship, improved performance or peer co-operation is barely noticeable.

I’m not saying that Egyptians by nature are not friendly, co-operative, sociable people who care for each other and want the good for others before them. They are, but unfortunately these qualities are suppressed in certain situations and contexts. Like this photo, violating the laws by covering the rear glass, disregarding the presence of other drivers behind you, and endangering your life and others, do not reflect any of these qualities. Nevertheless, the driver is still extremely patriotic!

I noticed a common characteristic between these types of behaviours; covering your car’s rear windshield, or publicly playing patriotic songs through your handphone. All these behaviours share legal ownership in common, they all have a legally owned object from which the behaviour starts; a car, a phone, a house.

It seemed to me that legal ownership overpowers our psychological ownership. When it comes to the legally owned car, the rules of the psychologically owned roads don’t matter anymore, ‘My car, my rules’. When it comes to the legally owned handphone, the psychologically owned neighbourhood doesn’t matter anymore, ‘my phone, my business’. If you are such a patriotic person, it’s a contradicting attitude. But, then maybe it’s because legally owning something in Egypt is not an easy achievement.

! هو شارع أبوه

Does legally owning a road give you enough rights to disregard others rights?

* ‘Does his father own the road!’ is a common exclamation said when someone is hogging the road