It can be easy to think that in the 21st century we are too sophisticated to be tribal animals. But that’s not true. Our tribes are vital to every aspect of our lives. I talk about the light and dark side of tribes in the 4th lesson of the Thoughts Module from the New Healing Connection course. Here’s an excerpt.
In this lesson I’ll introduce the concept of tribes. Understanding our tribes is important, especially as we’re working to understand where a lot of our unhealthy thought patterns start.
What do you think about when you hear the word tribe? Sometimes my mind goes back in time. I see small tribes of indigenous people who lived together thousands of years ago. I imagine they’re almost naked, except for loincloths and body paint. They live in a warm climate, maybe in sub-Saharan Africa or the Amazonian rain forest. They have simple huts and use simple tools.
Sometimes, especially in the winter, I imagine northern tribes. I see people living in the Arctic, wearing furs and herding reindeer. I imagine them living a nomadic life, carrying everything they need on their sleds and traveling as the seasons change.
Starting with the cavemen, human beings have been tribal animals.
For thousands of years, our tribes have been vitally important to us. They’ve allowed us to survive and enjoy life together.
Over the centuries, and especially in the last century, our tribes—and our relationships with them—have evolved. But although we’ve evolved, we’re still tribal animals.
We spend our lives in our tribes, sharing responsibilities and socializing with each other. I don’t know anyone who’s totally self-sufficient, living off the grid, all alone, without another living soul for company. Even survivalists who live in the remote wilderness come out every once in a while to get provisions and to have some company.
We’re all members of tribes whether we realize it or not.
Our tribes include all the groups of people we live and associate with. We each belong to many different tribes. Some of them we join automatically, just for being alive. And some of them we have to get permission to join.
When we’re born we automatically become part of our family-of-origin tribes. All those days you spent as a child, playing and fighting with your sisters and brothers, were spent with your family-of-origin tribe.
We also get automatic passes into our extended-family tribes. When you go to visit your grandparents at Christmas and you see your cousins there, you’re spending time with your extended-family tribe.
Our tribal associations continue to spread out from there. We’re all part of our neighborhood tribes. Those of us living in the United States belong to our hometown tribes and our state tribes. Look around you at the states bordering your state. It’s amazing how different the individual state tribes are, even though all that separates them is an invisible border.
From the state tribes, you can keep going global. I belong to the United States tribe, the North American continent tribe, and, the big mama of them all, the Planet Earth tribe. People living thousands of years ago would have had a hard time imagining belonging to a Planet Earth tribe.
When you’re a kid, you join many tribes in addition to your family tribe.
There is your neighborhood tribe, and for many kids your daycare tribe, and maybe a church tribe. All the different groups of friends you play with make up different tribes. You might act a little differently with each one, depending on their rules and expectations. You might play different games, talk about different things, and have different goals with each.
When you go to school, you belong to different school tribes. There’s your homeroom tribe, your lunch tribe, and specialty-class tribes. If you participate in sports or music groups, you’ll be part of those tribes.
When you go off to college and work, you join a whole new set of tribes. Whenever you’re with a group of people who share the same purpose or work together toward a common goal, you’re in a tribe together. You won’t necessarily always love these tribes or the people in them. But whenever you’re sharing time and space with them, you’re part of them.
Your tribes also include other types of groups you spend time with. You see your church tribe when you go to church. You see your baseball tribe when you play baseball together. And you may be part of a quilting-circle tribe or take cooking classes with your cooking tribe. You do specific activities together and socialize with each other.
You also belong to tribes who are connected by shared beliefs or shared characteristics.
You may not socialize with each other. You may not even live in the same geographical area. But you belong to the same tribe because of some shared aspect of your lives. For example, groups of people with similar religious and political beliefs belong to the tribes that share their beliefs. You may not have anything in common with the other people in those tribes beside those specific beliefs. But those shared beliefs are enough to earn you tickets into those tribes.
Everyone also belongs to specific racial and ethnic tribes. People of similar economic and social classes belong to the same tribes; people of similar educational levels group together in their tribes. And people in the military belong to their specific military-branch tribes.
People also belong to tribes that share their beliefs. For example, people who support abortion belong to the pro-abortion tribe. People who believe global warming is a lie belong to the climate-deniers tribe.
There are a lot of different reasons for belonging to our tribes.
We may be born into them, or we may choose to join them over a shared interest, belief, or purpose. Whatever the reason, it’s important to recognize that you’re part of them. It’s important because your tribes affect you in profound ways.
Your tribes can give you a great sense of security. If you belong to a labor union and your employer threatens to fire you, you expect the union to stand by you and protect you. If you’re a kid in school who’s scared of being bullied by another kid, you know you can hang out with your friend tribe at recess for protection.
Another thing we get from our tribes is a guide as to how we should look, think, talk, and act. It can be a relief not to always be your own expert; you can ask your tribe to be your expert. If you’re in high school and a new kid joins your class, you don’t have to decide for yourself if you’re going to be friends with that person. You can just wait and see how your tribe of friends treats the new kid and follow their lead.
You can depend on your tribes to guide you in every aspect of your life.
You can look to other tribal members and pattern yourself after them. You can use their guidance to decide how much money you should make, what kind of house you should buy, and even how many children you should have. They’ll tell you what you should eat and drink. Should you eat only organic or is processed food acceptable? Should you drink alcohol or be a teetotaler? Look to your fellow tribal members, and they’ll let you know.
If you think about it, it’s almost overwhelming how much input your tribes will give you about how you should live your life. How many hours should you work? How should you spend your free time? What kind of hobbies should you have? What types of books should you read? What sports should you play? When you have a decision to make, it can be easy to let your tribes tell you what to do.
But like with so many things in life, there’s often a bad side to tribes.
To learn more about the light and dark side of tribes, enroll in my online course. You can also sign up for a free preview of 4 lessons including this lesson about tribes. Click here for more information.