There is a natural inclination for people with similar characteristics and like-mindedness to congregate. We are tribal beings after all.
Our tribes enabled humans to survive hostilities over the eons. Even the challenges we face today draw us to those of similar status and values. It is in these modern day tribes that we form comfortable bonds of friendship. Our social networks, business and community groups welcome us. We are nurtured and provided with a sense of belonging and kinship.
Over the past few years there has been a call from authors and social scientists to ‘find your tribe’ due to increasing isolation in the internet age. But there is a worrisome downside to all of this as well. In his book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, Bill Bishop provides a breakdown of how our tribes are making it far less likely for us to consider views different from our own.
He points out that when we are surrounded by people who agree with us, our views become more and more resolute and extreme. We tend to denounce those who are different and competing ideas are considered invalid. In tribal extremes, binary or dualistic thinking becomes dominant and inclusivity becomes almost impossible.
Our First Tribes; That Old Gang of Mine
We don’t get to choose our family tribe, but as children move out from home to school, and the community at large, we begin to form attachments, and friendships emerge through play. These relationships influence behavior and we become powerfully motivated to be a part of a peer group. We form what I call a chosen tribe.
My own consisted of neighbor boys, all about seven years of age, and who lived within the confines of a city block. Our beliefs were dualistic. We determined what was good, bad, moral, evil, acceptable and unacceptable. Good guys wore white hats. Americans were moral. Nazi’s and The Imperial Japanese Navy were evil. Protestants were acceptable and those with other religious beliefs unacceptable (and probably going to hell).
Our first challenge to ‘us versus them’ binary thinking came when two Roman Catholic kids were admitted to our gang. We liked them and they were good at baseball. Our parents were okay with it even though we were not allowed to go to their church nor were we invited to ours. This ever so slight shift in the dominant view actually began to open each of us to the prospect of including others.
Despite later adolescent fear of being ostracized and rejected for ever-expanding and diversifying our choice of friends, each of the original tribe became young men who accepted and honored differences in others. And it has continued into our middle and old age. Tribes can open us or close us up.
Our Oneness and Common Bonds
So how can any of us embrace uniqueness found in tribes while recognizing, including and honoring diversity and differences? An answer can be found in spiritual and scientific oneness. For example, while finger prints may point to uniqueness, our DNA connects us to a widening family of people and places beyond our imagination.
Jesus challenges his followers through word and personal example to include the poor, the sick, the tax collector, the rich, and the despised into a great banquet feast. He asks us to love neighbor as self. If we want to make a society work it must be expanded beyond, while not excluding, the tribes that make us feel safe and welcomed.
Finding the things that unite us and underscoring our sacred humanity is the key to kinship. But this will require an openness to do so. Our deep divisions in politics, religion, economics (and seemingly every other facet of life) play out on television and social media every day.
“One thing we know – there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all.” ~ Chief Seattle
I was watching an interview with Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers when I first heard the words of Chief Seattle’s 1855 letter to the U.S. President. Those interviews, called The Power of Myth, were presented on PBS.
It was inspiring to hear his wisdom and insight regarding global inclusiveness. Not that the concept was foreign to me in 1990, but striking how polarized and dualistic we remained 135 years after the letter had been penned.
Now, another 28 years has passed and the situation has grown worse in so many ways. However, I got a promising glimpse of our oneness when watching the funeral service of former First Lady Barbara Pierce Bush on April 21, 2018. I mention her middle name because she is a cousin of President Franklin Pierce, who was the recipient of Chief Seattle’s letter.
In attendance at the funeral were the current First Lady and four former Presidents as well as dignitaries from extremes of political and philosophical persuasion. It occurred to me that perhaps neither time nor our humanity has separated us so much after all. Campbell used to talk about how important it is to have the experience of sacred spaces. Such a sacred space was evident in Houston at the celebration of Mrs. Bush.
I could almost hear Joe Campbell reminding us that; “where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; and where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
Sacred Spaces and Welcoming Places
There are ways to create these sacred spaces which I believe will connect us to the God of our understanding and widen our scope of oneness with all of creation. We might not be like Moses who heard his name being called and found a bush which was burning but not consumed by flames in a place that was made holy. But we can answer God in the spirit of Moses by proclaiming as he did; “Here I am.”
The personal experience of disciplined, practiced prayer and meditation is a means by which we can create a sacred space in higher consciousness for listening and connecting within. It is a way of shutting off the binary, dualistic brain. Richard Rohr, the Franciscan contemplative teacher says that “The lowest level of consciousness is entirely dualistic (win/lose)—me versus the world and basic survival. Many, I am afraid, never move beyond this. The higher levels of consciousness are more and more able to deal with contradictions, paradoxes, and all Mystery (win/win). This is spiritual maturity.
At the higher levels, we can teach things like compassion, mercy, forgiveness, selflessness, even love of enemies. Any good contemplative practice quickly greases the wheels of the mind toward non-dual consciousness. This is exactly why saints can overlook offenses and love enemies!” We make ourselves fully present saying, “Here I am.”
The very Tribes to which we feel drawn to for belonging, comfort and safety can be a means of re-connecting and of decreasing our dangerous climate of polarization. As members of the group we have the authority to be leaders. First and foremost, we can help each other to stop worrying about what other people think about us. We can begin to talk about similarities of those whom we have opposed. We can collaborate with other teams at work. We can explore positive aspects of the culture we want to see more of. We can begin to establish associations with individuals who are different.
Expanding our tribes will not come through logical arguments or sound reasoning. It will come through a building of individual connections. It can happen just as it did for my little gang of boys so many years ago when we found out that two strange kids were ‘good at baseball’. We will always find that we are not really very different. And at long last…what a fine Tribe we might be.
Robert Kenneth Jones
Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.
In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.
His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.
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