“Good” Tribal v “Bad”

Sneetches being tribal.

Here’s a stone cold fact: all humans are tribal. Tribalism’s a survival instinct for social creatures like us. We need to feel connected to others in order to be happy within ourselves. Even a raging egomaniac like Donald Trump needs everyone else’s approval (or disapproval) in order to be. Take the rest of us away and he’s screwed. Extreme tribalism is something else entirely. It’s white supremacy. Fascism. Idolatry. Good tribal v bad tribal – that’s the crux of the matter.

We embrace our tribalism every time we watch our favorite sports teams take the field, court or pitch. We wear their colors, sing their songs, crave our team’s supremacy over all others. There are always other teams we especially like to beat on. I’m a huge Tottenham Hotspur supporter. That means all Arsenal supporters can burn in hell for all eternity. What the hell is wrong with those people? And yet, I break bread with these lunatics repeatedly – and love doing it!

Multiple Tribal Memberships

In moments like that, there are two tribes at play in my head. First, there’s the team tribe. But then we’re family or longstanding friends – a different kind of tribe. Bigger, in a sense. We probably feel the same way politically – that’s both a big tribe and a small tribe (depending on the political specifics). I can be part of the Democratic tribe but also part of the progressive Democratic tribe – a sub-tribe among Democrats that not all Democrats embrace.

We all negotiate our various tribal memberships. Their power ebbs and flows relative to each other and our quotidian situation. But, healthy tribalism – “good tribalism” – continually strikes a balance. “Bad tribalism” has no balance. That’s its most fatal flaw.

Bad tribalism focuses more and more narrowly on who qualifies for membership. Exclusivity rules. Does bad tribalism produce anything worthwhile that justifies the rest of us holding our noses and putting up with it? Not that I can think of. How can it, really? Bad tribalism appeals to the teeniest and tiniest of people. It’s how they feel bigger.

The Trick With Tribalism

The trick with tribalism isn’t to deny it but to embrace it. And to see tribal connections in as many places – with as many different people – as possible. When I leave the baseball game at Dodgers Stadium, go home and strip off my Dodgers Blue, I set aside that tribal connection and turn to the ones I feel toward my family, my block, my neighborhood, my community, my part of town, my voting district, my city, my part of California, California entirely, the West and other Westerners. I also feel connected to other Americans – to other atheists, other progressives, other writers, other screenwriters, other storytellers. Other bloggers, podcasters and content creators.

See how many tribes with which I feel kinship? That’s the answer to the tribal puzzle. See yourself as a member of as many tribes as possible. And don’t be afraid to “join” (or see yourself as a member of) every tribe you can (excepting the exclusive ones). The more people we feel connected to, the harder it becomes to behave abominably toward them.

At the end of the day, finding tribal connections is a lot easier than denying them. Even two people who can’t agree on anything – if they both like (or love) the same song?

They’re a tribe.

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