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Thursday, June 30, 2016


Defining Tribe

Robert Frost famously wrote that home is the place where, when you go there they have to take you in. The word “tribe” is far harder to define, but a start might be the people you feel compelled to share the last of your food with.”
Sebastian Junger (Tribe)

I have long wondered why we mark human history by wars. And, why is it that men and women who have fought in wars see that time as a high point in their lives. I remember my dad, forty years after the fact, talking with men who served along side him in the Pacific during World War II. They didn't speak of the dead on the battlefield, their own or the Japanese, they spoke of the horseplay among them as brothers. I have faded photos of rows of Quonset huts, and men in boxer shorts and hard hats, all smiles. I know from other stories and photos that they fought, and killed, and buried the dead, and were deeply scarred by all that killing and all the blood. And yet, what they most remembered was the brotherhood among them; they served one another, they forged a bond of trust that each of them would have the others backs. Even though there were personality differences, they pledged themselves to the care and protection of all. That's tribe. It's hard to find in the world today.

Most of the research on tribal groups indicates that we max out at about one hundred fifty people with whom we can have rich and lasting relationships. Most of us, however, don't have that. As we've come to rely upon our online relationships more and more, we've become less and less connected to tribe. One of the things that bonds soldiers in war is hardship. Contrary to common belief, human relationships thrive when times are hard. The suicide and addiction rates go dramatically up in affluent, low hardship cultures. When we have to pull together, we bond. When we have the luxury of self-reliance, we flounder.

The other misunderstanding we have about bonding is thinking we don't need all the animal instincts and rituals. We forget the important role that pheromones, and eye dilation and scent play in connecting with another human being. We don't get that any other way except up close and personal. You can't give someone a hand-up, or even a hand shake—the human ritual of touch—on a computer or cell phone. A text does not carry the tones and rhythm of a human voice. All these go into creating tribe, and tribe creates trust, and trust creates safety.

Today, I hope you will consider your own tribe. Reach out and touch someone—with your hand, not your cell phone.

                                                         In the Spirit,


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