The Resurgence of Tribalism in America – A Macro look at the World – Part II

Yesterday, I discussed how a desire for freedom and a need for purpose are fueling our workforce.  Today I want to discuss how tribalism is affecting our modern day culture.  It is my intention to do a series of these “Macro Look at the World” discussions to give us an overview to set the tone for a larger strategic discussion of how this all affects the real estate industry as a whole.  It’s going to be a wide-ranging discussion, but if you stick with it, it will all come together in the end.  I promise.

Tribalism – A Definition
First I want to begin with a definition of tribalism so that you have context for what I am talking about.  I am not talking about “tribe” in the traditional idea of a small unit of people who live together, interbreed, and rely on one another for safety, sustenance and survival.  What I mean by tribe in this context is the tendency of people to form into groups for specific purposes and to treat those groups as a type of “family-of-choice”.  They do bear a resemblance to the traditional definition in that they rely on one another for emotional support, sometimes they intertwine their financial lives, they might even interbreed or live together.  Or they might not.  Let’s look at the ways in which tribes are forming in America (and sometimes around the world) today.

Social Media Tribes
When I talk about tribalism to people they will often direct me to the Internet as the classic example.  There are all kinds of tribal groups in the social media scene.  You can find a special interest group on any topic.  And, through the miracle of technology, people from around the country and around the globe can form friendships based on a common interest.  These friendships can be as real as any IRL friendship a person can have – in some cases, they are even more real since the lack of physical proximity can often remove the barriers of resistance to sharing information that might be damaging if it got out to one’s IRL friends.

The Human Animal
Desmond Morris in his ground-breaking television series, The Human Animal, discussed the creation of tribes.  He studied humans in small towns and big cities and he discovered that small towns are their own tribes, but as a group gets too big, people form sub-tribes – units smaller than the whole – to have a sense of community and connection.  This is why people will walk by someone in pain on the street in a big city – that person is not part of their tribe – they do not feel connected or responsible to them.  This is also why there isn’t a sense of connection with everyone on the Internet – it’s just too big.  But you can have strong affinities within smaller groups.

Tribalism in Relationships
I keep hearing more people talk about their families in a new way.  They are referring to their “blood family” and then they refer to their “family of choice” – meaning their group of friends to whom they feel so close that they have adopted them as family.  Many people are choosing to spend holidays with the latter over the former Some are placing the responsibility for life and death decisions around living wills and the assignment of executors of estates on “family of choice” rather than blood relations as well.  Some are even moving this tribal mentality into their romantic relationships forming triads or more of interwoven relationships as part of the polyamory movement.

Tribalism in Housing
Even platonically, there are a growing number of intentional communities being formed using co-housing and community housing (many people sharing a larger home) concepts.  Children are literally being “raised by a village” of people within the community of the co-housing or community housing development.  Elders are being able to broaden their environment of interaction, parents are getting help and child care, and children are receiving a broad spectrum of input from a wide variety of individuals who are caring for them in their lives.

Tribalism in Business
There are even businesses forming that represent a tribal approach.  Consider the cooperative farms, Napster, and even ZipCar.  The concept being one of sharing the cost to get more resources for lower expense per person.


Support Group Tribes
Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Cancer Survivors Network, grief groups, Weight Watchers, group therapy programs, and more are nothing more than tribes built around the concept of supporting their members through some major shift in their lives.  Even business has these types of support groups.  Consider the Chamber of Commerce, BNI, The American Business Women’s Association, and other professional organizations.  Political movements have their support group tribes as well in the form of political action campaigns.  Charities have their groups, as do religious beliefs – even atheists have groups.

Why Form Tribes At All?
All of this clumping into groups – why do we do it?  There are many practical reasons for forming tribes.  They provide support in the form of sharing the work load or the emotional burden.  They offer the opportunity to reduce expenses by sharing resources.  In some cases, they provide a sense of “safety in numbers”.  But, ultimately, once you take away all of the practical reasons, people just need a place to belong, a place where they are welcomed.  (I’m thinking along the lines of the Cheers “Hi, Norm!” sort of concept of belonging.) It is this sense of belonging that allows us to feel secure and forms the basis for our definition of self.  I.E. – I am (name). I’m a (professional title). I attend this religious circle, these workshops, belong to these online groups, and am a part of these communities.  Through these statements we tell other about ourselves, but we also use them to define who we are internally – using the outside world as a mirror to see ourselves.

Being In Community
Even here, online, we have our community.  This is our place to come together and have a sense of camaraderie – the knowledge that when we say something here, people will understand it.  Life is all about being seen, heard, understood and accepted for who we are.  These are at the core of all people’s needs.  By forming tribes, we hope to gain a greater chance of getting those needs met.  Thanks for being part of my tribe.

A Macro Look at the World:  Part I – Revisioning Business


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