Tribes

I’ve been puzzling over the political madness sweeping the country, and I think part of what is driving this intensity of emotion and defense of position is that there is something inside us, each of us, that longs to be a part of a much larger tribe, one that connects us to a bigger group, a more significant movement, a more meaningful purpose. 

We already belong to a number of tribes, either by birth or by choice: family, circle of friends, sports fans, community organizations, regional heritage, religious groups, and so on. We have a need to belong to something bigger than anything we can already claim membership in, and a national political contest is an opportunity to join an enormous group. A lot of political campaigning is essentially the candidates and their group saying, “Come join us; be a part of our tribe! We’re the best one, the one that cares about you, that will fight for you . . . .” and so on. 

One unfortunate thing about this is that for there to be an “us” there must also be an “other,” and creating an “other” too often results in stereotyping, refusal to see common ground, and, significantly, a glossing over of differences within the “us.” It makes conversation across groups difficult, if not impossible.

Even those who claim a fair amount of enlightenment and tolerance find ways to denigrate and marginalize people who disagree with them, who haven’t seen the light, and that too is unfortunate. I have friends all along the political spectrum, and, without exception, each believes that they and theirs are in the right and those “others” are refusing to see reality, misguided at best and pure evil at worst. It’s both fascinating and scary to watch. As one who has experienced firsthand an attack on my tribe by an extremist, I know how easily rhetoric can spur some individuals to action. We should take care what we say; words can easily become deeds. We are seeing that play out right now, and some of it scares the hell out of me.

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