Thursday, October 8, 2009

Community vs. Tribalism

When a hurricane was bearing down on us last year, my neighbor commented that my side of the street always got electricity back before his side. My response was that, if that were to happen, we could run an extension cord across the road to make sure they had at least enough power for a little fridge and cell phone chargers. And that's exactly what happened. For three days, our homes were literally connected to one another.

This same neighbor cares for the yard of an elderly couple in our neighborhood. Free of charge. Just because he is a kind and caring person. Another couple down the street share vegetables that they grow in their garden. We don't pay for the vegetables, but my wife did make a care package when one of them was bed-ridden after a recent surgery.

We are connected to one another, and we respond to one another out of that connectivity. In a way, we are all on the same team, even when a month goes by without any direct interaction. We have a common purpose of living peaceably in community with one another. In the More To Life organization, people unite as a team for the short-term purpose of creating a training weekend to serve others.

The idea of being on the same team doesn't always look like my neighborhood or an act of service, though. It often gets twisted around into tribalism: We are on this team, and they are on that other team. We have our purposes, and they have theirs. And we have to fight to get what we want. We have to compete with the other tribe(s) to make sure we come out on top. Otherwise They might take advantage of us. We won't get what we want. We won't be safe. We'll be hindered from accomplishing our purpose.

So our tribe's purpose can easily become "to fight against the other tribe(s)," whatever that looks like. It might be a marketing war, cultural conflict, a military war, or a legal battle. It might even manifest as a subtle whisper campaign. In any case, when we shift into this mode, we believe that our tribe is completely justified. Our tribe is right. Our tribe is deserving.

And our tribe is afraid. Fear is the primary motivator of tribalism in any venue. And when we are fighting with the other tribe because of fear, it makes defining a sacred purpose all the more difficult. How can we honestly create something as a community when we are acting out of fear to destroy the Other? Quote something about the phoenix or Kali if you like, but I would suggest that when a tribe is fearful, there will always be apparent enemies at the gate that demand immediate attention.

The tribe mentality limits us. It turns away the unique creative gifts others could bring to the table, and it keeps us in a state of separation. Seeing the potential for partnership and connectivity is expansive. If we take "we" to the ultimate limits, there is no "them." And I believe the closer we are to that understanding, the more we engage our integrity, gracefulness, and gratitude.

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