Are ‘Tribes’ Such A Bad Thing?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about tribes and tribalism.  Donovan, at the end of The Way of Men, admonished guys to form “gangs”, basically groups of men who are beholden to you and who you are beholden to.

Photo by Jhoana Tamayo
Photo by Jhoana Tamayo

The reality is that not only is it impossible to prove yourself to billions of people, or even millions, unless you have a massive platform, it’s also completely pointless.  Part of honor is in having the approval of your peers, and those millions aren’t your peers.

So, instead, we should form smaller groups.

Here’s where it gets tricky.  The idea of “tribe” gets a lot of negative attention.  People view tribalism as a bad thing, but they’re also misusing the term.

Humans appear to be wired for an “us versus them” mentality.  During the Cold War when I was growing up, this was harnessed easily enough by letting the Russians be the “them”.  It didn’t make everything nice and peaceful, though, because there was always some other “us versus them” going on.

It doesn’t help that racism is viewed through a tribal lens.  “Those people don’t look like us, so they’re ‘them’ and everyone should realize that ‘them’ sucks.”

However, the concept of “tribe” is really more than just people who share some trait.  People love to say someone is part of their “tribe”, but all it means is they share some things in common with those folks.  They’re not tribe.  They don’t even begin to understand tribes.

Instead, we should look at forming intentional tribes, groups purpose built especially for the support of one another.  People who have sworn oaths to support their brothers–and sisters–through thick or thin.

It’s within these tribes that you encounter people’s who opinions of you, as an individual, that actually matter.

These groups should be small–studies suggest that 150 people max may be ideal for this.  Membership should provide hurdles before entry, making it so the potential new member must prove their willingness to become part of the group.

I’m a freemason, and we have three degrees as well as a process before you ever hit the first degree of masonry.  I kind of like this.  There’s an informal investigation to see if someone is right for the group, and then a vote on whether they should be permitted to join.

The idea of the hurdles gives a potential candidate plenty of opportunity to back out, while also making it obvious whether or not the candidate is a good fit for the community.

Once in, people should be in for as long as they want except under extreme circumstances.  Rules should be present, understood, and simple.  There should be only a handful of rules, few enough so everyone can be expected to know and understand them.

However, the group needs to be founded based on a handful of basic principles.  These “founding principles” are the core of what the group is built around.  These are key to the group’s identity.

Further, there should be more to the group than just being all manly and stuff.  Women can and should be part of the tribe, though their focus should be defined by them.  However, it shouldn’t be contrary to the founding principles.

For example, if a group decides on a warrior theme that is encoded in their founding principles, the women shouldn’t decide that their focus should be on opposing all violence.  This works against the founding principles.

The reason tribes matter is that society as a whole is virtually impossible for a small group to change.  Society is made up of too many people working against those goals, so much so that it can be frustrating for a lone individual to push against the stream.

By “tribing up”, so to speak, you give yourself an outlet.  You put yourself in a completely different stream where, at least for a time, you’re part of the flow.

Monday, I’ll outline my own ideas for forming an intentional tribe.  These are the ideas I’ve built for an intentional tribe of my own.  I honestly don’t know if anyone else will be interested in such an organization, but why the heck not.

Take a look and see what you think.  Even if it doesn’t fly for me, maybe it will for you.


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