Tribalism. When people read this word, they likely think of a primitive time in world history. I would postulate that tribalism is alive and well in the 21st century and especially in the current U.S. political system.
I’ve spent a large part of my professional life working with international students studying in U.S. colleges and universities. I also had the task of training the university chaplains and volunteer families who worked with these students. The fundamental issues of culture, religion and language were always paramount, as were the stages of culture shock and their impact on these foreign guests.
A fable, whose author I cannot recall, contains some universal truths that I often shared in my training sessions and I wish to share it with you.
Looking at the planet from a bird’s-eye view, in a long ago era and in the early stages of human development, we see a series of mountain ranges with vast valleys in between. Upon closer look, we see in each valley tribes of people, all moving in the same direction. As they march, they are developing their own unique cultures. They are developing their own means of communication and languages. We also take note that they are creating a form of religion and worship that comes from the unique nature of their tribe’s journey.
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After centuries of their journeys, not being aware of the other tribes, they all suddenly emerge on a level plane created by technology.
“We are not alone,” the tribes exclaim.
As we, the audience, view this moment in this story, we are wondering, “Will they find the variety of languages, cultures and religions exciting, enriching and making for a better world? Or will each tribe pull back and declare that our language, our culture, our religion is superior and go their separate ways, later to wage wars and to seek power over each other?”
We know the answer. Tribalism wins.
Tribalism is defined as loyalty to a tribe or other social group, especially when combined with strong negative feelings for people outside the group.
Because of this “level plane” created by technology, education, advances in the sciences, global travel and global economics, we humans have begun to embrace the beauty of the diversity of our planet. The variety in race, culture, language and religion is seen as enriching and giving depth to all our lives and creating a sense of the brotherhood and sisterhood of all humankind.
We are better and more human for embracing this diversity and inclusion.
But dark forces are still at work, realizing the power in appealing to the primitive drive deep in the human soul. It is the appeal of tribalism.
The old political doctrine of isolationism is once again rearing its head. “Our tribe above all tribes” is now the theme. Also, the rest of the world’s tribes should begin to think in terms of looking out for themselves and their own interests. This is the current message from our new leader.
If that is not scary enough, listen to the thoughts of Matt Lewis in The Daily Beast: “I fear we may be entering a new phase (in U.S. politics) where there are two distinct political tribes: One tribe consists of minorities and educated elites, while the other tribe increasingly consists of working-class whites.”
Mr. White goes on: “If tribes strike you as primitive, it’s not just you. Tribes tend to assign leadership not based on experience or wisdom but based on strength. Much of what we are witnessing today is very base and essentially comes down to machismo: The other guys are out to get us so we need to get them first. This is the major rationale for Trump supporters, who see him as an ‘alpha’ in a sea of wishy-washy Beltway insiders.”
Each of us must decide between embracing diversity or staying in our bubble of tribalism. In so choosing, so goes our county, our state and our nation.
As we go about our life’s journey, we weave a tapestry. Some will be woven with vibrant colors, diverse patterns and a variety of hues and textures as they embrace a beautiful world filled with a diversity of fellow humankind. Such a tapestry only comes to those with the strength of character and spirit to leave their comfort zones and explore the real world into which they were born.
Others will weave a tapestry that is dull, plain and of one color. They feared that which was different from their tribe and what their tribe approved and taught. They maintained a sense that those who were different were a threat to be avoided, even feared.
May our tapestries and that of our nation be one of great diversity and inclusion. And may tribalism and its attendant fears and ignorance be relegated to the dust bins of history.
The writer lives in Princeton.
What do you think?
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