In times of crisis, such as after mass shootings, people may find themselves expressing feelings of solidarity. You may feel passionate about gun control, immigration or you may feel compassion for a specific group of people that has been harmed. This may lead to a social media post that says something along the lines of, "I stand with (insert idea/group of people here)". So what does this mean, and why do people feel the need to express this sentiment?
Being someone who is interested in language and especially where our concepts come from, I am going to examine this idea metaphorically. Our abstract concepts, such as "solidarity", come directly from our bodily experience. We first need to experience "solid" before we can get to "solidarity". Sometimes the concepts are simple and universal such as "Up is Happy/Down is Sad" but sometimes they are much more complex, comprising of multiple overlapping metaphors that form a semi-coherent system.
The phrase "standing with" relies upon these conceptual metaphors:
Physical Solidity is Meaningful Solidity --> "That's a solid idea"
Similarity is Closeness --> "We're not so far apart on immigration."
Relationships are Bonds --> "I feel like there's a really strong bond between us."
Determination is Standing Upright --> "We've got to stand up against the forces of evil."
Causes are Forces --> "You really pushed me into this."
Weight is Seriousness --> "Woah man. That's heavy."
Politics is a Journey --> "We're not moving forward on gun control."
The word "solidarity" originated around 1829 from the French word "solidarite" which means "a communion of interests and responsibilities." It was derived from the word "solide" which corresponds to the english word "solid". (www.etymonline.com) The word "solidarity" itself is a metaphor. Think of a solid, a liquid and a gas. What differentiates them is the distance between particles, i.e. the particles of a solid are more stable, uniform and closer together. On the macro level the same idea can be experienced with the legs of a table. Imagine a table with a few disparate randomly placed legs, and then imagine a table with lots of closer together uniformly spaced legs. One is obviously more solid than the other.
This "solidness" can be mapped onto meaningful realities such as the idea of group cohesion where a solid group of people is ideologically more stable, uniform and closer together. People who are more ideological similar are conceptualized as being "closer" to one another, and people who share opposing beliefs are conceptualized as being "further away" thus Distance is Similarity. You get enough people who are close to one another and, much like particles or legs of a table, you stat getting a more substantial object. (Note: Distance can also be conceptualized as Intimacy, so when we say we are close to someone, we do not necessarily mean we are similar to them, but are more intimate.)
As people move close together, the bonds that unite them may become stronger. (Bonds are Relationships) Imagine a group of people physically spaced long distances apart, each connected by a rope that stretches from one person to the next. Now imagine a group of people who are uniformly close together. The bonds are shorter and stronger. This group can be considered "solid" since they can withstand resistance without falling apart. They can not be pushed around as easily.
Since we conceptualize Causes as Forces, opposing ideologies "push against" one another. Here we replace the individual people connected by ropes with ideas, connected in a similar way, in service of forming a much larger Ideology. A solid ideology, just like a solid group of people, has strength because its uniform density permeates throughout. It has "impact" because when it strikes the opposing less stable ideology, it causes damage. An ideology that is "hollow", that doesn't have anything inside of it, that has disparate poorly connected ideas, more easily falls apart when it finally meets an opposing argument. It can even "destroy the argument" with its "hard hitting impact".
Similarly when we are going to "stand with" someone or something, we are implying that we are going to try and help the stability of a particular idea/group in relation to the opposing forces that we see pushing against it. We do this because we conceptualize Life as a Journey, where it has a beginning (birth), a middle (middle age) and an end (death). Politics can also be a journey, where we see legislation also having a beginning (the formation of a bill), a middle (the debating of a bill) and an end (the bill becoming law).
If we take the issue of "gun control" we imagine that it needs to go somewhere, i.e, it needs to get to the end of its journey (becoming law). There are "opposing forces" that are keeping it from "moving forward", that are "slowing its progress". These opposing forces can start destroying the object if there is not enough solidity in the group. They can also start pushing it "backward" or "off course". If the group is ideologically "far apart", individuals are much easier to push around then if the group is a solid object.
"Standing up" is the human equivalent of resisting the force of gravity, i.e. a force that is pushing on us. We stand, as opposed to sitting, because standing takes effort (Determination/Will). We conceptualize morality as "upright" as well as "a firm backbone" because we feel, rightly or wrongly, that we have the ability to resist the outside forces that swirl around us, i.e the ability for personal choice. Likewise being a "spineless push over" shows an inability to "stand up" for oneself. "A flake" is someone who is blown around by the elements indiscriminately. They do not have the solidity to withstand force. Instead they are picked up and carried off by the slightest breeze.
We express solidarity online to one another possibly as a way to show group cohesion, as a way of saying, "This thing I believe in. It's a solid object. It is serious (weighty). It can withstand the forces pushing against it. With our collective effort we will move it forward on its journey, until eventually, we will reach our goal."