I live in Chicagoland, home of two professional baseball teams, the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox. Year round, you can spot die-hard fans of these teams pretty easily. Cubs fans wear ball caps and player jerseys to show their affiliation with their please-Lord-tell-me-that-I-will-live-long-enough-to-see-my-team-win-a-pennant; Sox fans wear ball caps and player jerseys to show their affiliation with their please-Lord-let-us-win-another-World-Series-before-the-Cubs-break-their-102-year-losing-streak team.
Affiliation. Being part of a group. Sharing an identity. Joining others via some united purpose, values or association.
Some affiliations are intentional, like wearing a team jersey. People do it proudly, proclaiming their fanaticism as a badge of honor. The politically minded may use their front yards as sign holders to advertise and show their affiliation with a particular party or candidate. Concert-goes usually dig out t-shirts with the band name on it to show their allegiance with a music group. Even some cars wear bumper stickers, the automotive equivalent to a tramp-stamp, that beckon people to honk if, to be proud of or to consider the benefits of dating a plumber or electrician or union worker.
Some affiliations are accidental. Imagine sharing a bloodline and a last name with an infamous serial killer. I knew a man who turned out to be a serial rapist and murderer. And I knew his wife and his children. When this man was caught, his depravity exposed, where did that leave his family who shared the Goodreau name? Even before the trial ended, his soon-to-be-ex-wife did whatever she could to separate herself and her children from the crimes of their infamous father. She did not keep the Goodreau name. She and the children were innocent, victims of the sins of another.
The same accidental affiliation happened in the years following World War II. A German heritage raised eyebrows, even if those people were far from Nazi sympathizers. Today, each month there are stories of non gang members getting gunned down for wearing gang “colors” without even being aware of the association. And how many good people in corporate America get flack when their company gets involved in a scandal or poor decision-making? Last year, a few people in my town held signs in front of the BP gas station to protest British Petroleum’s handling of the Gulf spill. In such cases, the innocent suffer along with the guilty.
There’s a final type of affiliation that hovers between intentional and accidental. I call this category clueless affiliations. Think of a teenager who comes home reeking of cigarette (or other) smoke, and his parents rip him into pieces. The kid could argue and argue that he was blameless, and in this case, perhaps he was. However, his affiliation with smokers stuck to him just as much as their smoke stuck to his clothes. And if a man doesn’t have quarters for the parking meter, and decides to run inside the building he’s parked in front of—which happens to be a strip club—to get change, he shouldn’t be surprised if his spouse or mother raises an eyebrow as he’s spotted walking out!
Even the most innocent actions can be misinterpreted. But if our actions raise eyebrows from someone we care about, we may do well to take a step back and be more intentional and thoughtful about how our actions may be interpreted. Intentionality of our actions and the message our actions send separate us from wild animals who do what they do based on high-level programming and instincts. As humans, we have the ability to be mindful of the messages our actions carry.
So if you sit in a bar across the street from Wrigley Field on game day, don’t be surprised if others assume you are a fan of the Cubs. If you can’t handle that affiliation, you might want to be on your way. And if you happen to be wearing a White Sox hat on game day…well, you better be the President of the United States if you’re near Wrigleyville!