This tendency to form ourselves into groups is written into us, a carryover from our earliest days, when belonging to a group meant that we had a much better chance of survival. Left to our own devices on the savanna, we were much more likely to perish.
So we joined groups. More importantly, we conformed our behavior and even our thoughts to others in the groups we joined so that there would be less chance of being expelled. We wanted our fellow tribal members to see that we were just like them. And if anyone was going to be shunned, it was going to be an outsider.
We became social mimics, not just identifying ourselves as part of a larger whole, but doing everything in our power to be part of the larger whole. If we could think and act like our compatriots, we could bond with them that much better. That kind of connection brought a sense of happiness and fulfillment.
Psychologists have done studies on exclusion and inclusion to determine exactly how we are wired. They’ve found that people who were excluded from a “task” (a psychological experiment) were more likely to unconsciously ape the behavior of others in a subsequent group setting.
Further, these “rejected” people sought to be included by the group of people they thought had rejected them. Essentially, they wanted a second chance to prove they belonged. They didn’t want to belong to just any group. They wanted to belong to the group that dismissed them earlier. But if they couldn’t do that, they would accept a new tribe.
Tribes give us a sense of common identity and shared fate, which increases the cohesiveness of our group. Rituals of synchronization have a powerful effect on us. It’s one of the reasons armies march together during training. They’re not doing it because they plan to fight that way; they’re doing it to build camaraderie.
This can be good or bad. If we’re part of a group that is lifting us up, we will be lifted up with them. On the other hand, if certain members of the group become dysfunctional, they can bring the whole group down with them.
It’s like trying to diet or give up smoking around a group that isn’t doing the same things, a group that isn’t properly supporting you – either by torpedoing your successes or by ignoring them. You’re much more likely to fail when you don’t have the proper support of your group.
Tribes have enormous power over us because we surrender our power to them. And asking us to stop being tribal may be impossible if we wish to retain our full humanity.
But even though we need tribes to feel whole, to feel completely human, we don’t need to stay permanently connected to any specific tribe. We don’t need to belong to a particular tribe if it has become dysfunctional. We can join another one if the one we’re in has become too toxic.
That’s where logic and intellect come into play. Examine the tribes you’ve chosen to belong to. Determine whether they’re helping or hurting you. And if they’re not beneficial, find other groups to join, groups that lift you up instead of tearing you or others down.
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