06 January 2012

Identifying my tribes

One morning while visiting my mother before Christmas, I read an opinion piece in her newspaper which has stayed with me.  It has demanded my attention with notable frequency since then.  In fact, I thought about it enough to have located it online in order to reread it.

I am surprised.  I read alot of things.  Much of it informative, interesting, helpful.  But, I don't remember much beyond the general idea and the feel of it.  My returning again and again to this particular column is uncharacteristic.

The article in question was written by Charles Bierbauer, dean of the University of South Carolina College of Mass Communications and Information Studies. It is a lightly written piece about tribes and conflict.  Maybe that is what made my being drawn in as I am possible.  A lightly written essay on a heavy topic kept me from getting my hackles up and in my discomfort dismissing the author's overall thesis.

Anyway (and sadly, I admit), what comes to my mind when I encounter the term "tribe" is the Middle East and our penchant to attribute the violence and unrest in that part of the world to tribalism.  We make the term "tribal" out to be counter to our daily reality.  They are so different from us.  And, because they are different their culture is chaos.  Their chaos is what they deserve because they have not adopted a more enlightened form of governance.

What Dean Bierbauer offered the reader -- where my thinking went at any rate -- is the idea that tribes are not so foreign to our experience as we maintain.  His tribe, as he began, claims colors of garnet and black.  Another of his tribes happens to fly a flag with palmetto tree and crescent on a field of dark blue.  You get the idea.  We all have tribal ties, many of them in fact, and those ties dictate thought, behaviour, alliance.

The essay also addressed the importance of grappling with and resolving the conflict brought on by our various tribe memberships.  It is demanding and humbling work.  It is work, however, that cannot be accomplished without first admitting to the truth of and the power of our own tribal system. 

For the moment, that's where I remain -- at the admitting stage, startled repeatedly the longer I ruminate at the intricate web of tribes to which I belong.  It seems as though I am not going to have any choice but to continue moving down this path.  I am hopeful I can trust the process, remembering to take the dean's lead by keeping it light.

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