Everyone forms little “tribes” that they identify with, tribes that help them cope with life or just form a stronger identity. In Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean, Robert Willie (a death row inmate for the rape and murder of Faith Harvey) was, in his version of events, dragged through his crimes by Joe Vaccaro, a friend, and his own tribal instinct to go along with Vaccaro. So how tribal are humans, really? We are phenomenal in our ability to cooperate with other humans globally, but we are also phenomenal in our ability to band together against each other.
In America, there is an ongoing event dubbed The Big Sort which, in Bill Bishop’s book, shows how homophily (literally “love of the same”) causes us to form like-minded communities in which we can grow more extreme in our views by corroborating each others’ opinions and through mutual agreement avoid ever considering the validity of dissonant ideas. This isn’t too bad when we need to get one issue done, and done fast, but it is a huge issue if we try to brainstorm anything. In the political culture, it forms two large parties (sound familiar?) that grow eventually more extreme and unwilling to meet in the middle or work together to generate novel solutions to the problems mutually identified. The Be Human Project connects this tribalism to business, but it is relevant for much more: religion, cultures, friend groups, music, etc., etc.
In the Huffington Post’s “For Human Survival, We Must Rise Above Our Tribal Mindset,” Homaira Kabir argues that it is our tribal instinct, fed by institutionalized stories, that sets us apart in both our capacity to do good and to be Machiavellian. As she said, “We may continue to be driven by our passions for a long time to come. But the goodness of the stories that underlie them is what will knit the universal human fabric together and determine the success of our journey into the future.” So, I challenge you: take a moment, and think about what underlines your decisions. Is it the football team’s “tribe”? The thespians’? Your favorite song? Or your religious views? Think about someone else’s similar stories. Did you dismiss them without a second thought? I hope you understand the danger!