Finding Your Tribe

Every four years, the world slows to a standstill to watch 22 grown men chase after a ball. The World Cup provides drama and pageantry, but is there something truly special about sweaty individuals with muscular thighs trying to kick a ball through a rectangle? Of course not. The true magic lies in the knowledge that they are the representatives of an entire nation. If it is your team playing, they are not just any players – they are YOUR players. Entire countries unite through a sense of commonality that is often not present at any other time. I know that personally, when the U.S. team scores, I get a feeling of ecstasy which I can only compare to the electricity which many feel when involved in rapturous worship. 

Some will say that such emotion is out of place in a globalized world. As a person who speaks multiple languages and has lived on four continents, I think I am more a citizen of the world than most. I am, however, also human, and humans are tribal beings. We crave belonging. No matter how far we move away from the environments that shaped our evolution, we cannot escape the communal hard-coding that is a byproduct of our development. As much as I love the world,” the world” is too vague a concept to inspire great joy. The world is not, nor can it be, my tribe, and consequently can never inspire the same kind of belonging.

Before continuing, I want to be clear that this is not an uncritical paean to tribalism. We all know that tribalism often brings out the worst in mankind, and that political tribalism is currently tearing at the fabric of the U.S. But it is possible to appreciate the benefits of being part of a group without feeling hatred for other groups. It is this form of tribalism that I am advocating.

In the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin noted how colonists kidnapped by Native Americans often tried to escape back to the tribe from which they were rescued, but that Native Americans rarely came the opposite direction. The desire for kinship is also why veterans look with nostalgia at the bonds with the soldiers in their unit that were closer than anything they had ever experienced before or after. It is why some studies show that one in four Peace Corps members experiences depression upon returning home to the U.S., and finds readjustment to American life difficult after experiencing the tight-knit relationships common in developing nations. As strange as it sounds, we sometimes actually miss war, adversity, disaster, and any other number of terrible events because of the unity and purpose that those situations create.

Despite the fact that we are more connected technologically than ever before, our actual ties with others are now at their weakest. This breakdown is thought by some to be a reason for mass shootings, which often occur in unexpected places from unexpected people because of an alienation that no one noticed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sense of community in impoverished areas is sometimes greater than that in more affluent neighborhoods because the requirement for co-dependence is more of a necessity. I can say from experience that the people I lived with in South Africa envied the material wealth of developed countries but not the rushing, disconnected lifestyle which created it.

Mindfulness of the harm associated with this lack of community is especially vital for those of a secular mindset. The non-religious often pride themselves on independent thinking, which sometimes extends to an almost macho “I’m just fine all on my own, thank you very much.” This is dangerous, though, because while reason might lead you to believe there is no God, it will not change your need for community. Secular individuals are as human as anyone. We know that religion fulfills such needs for many, and this is one of its chief reasons for existing. Consequently, leaving one’s faith can create a chasm in one’s identity. One of the purposes of Oasis is thus to fill this hole by offering us a new tribe. Our “congregation” provides an identity and a community for people who feel that religion cannot play that role.

In his book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger, a wartime journalist, writes:

"Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary."

By being accepting and accepted, by using human hands to solve human problems, by finding meaning through making a difference, we make people feel necessary. Not through veneration of a prophet, leader, or divine being, but through our shared commitment to those principles. It is for that reason that even though Oasis may not field a team at the World Cup, they are also MY tribe.