Thursday, May 19, 2011

Social Groupings: Tribe/Team or Clan/Family

The other day I was driving and saw a car covered (I would say littered) with bumper stickers promoting sports teams. There were probably 3 or 4 dedicated to the Red Sox, and just as many for the Patriots. This made me think that I really don’t understand the manic fanaticism that some put into their beloved sports. Do you know the derivation of the word “fan”? It comes from fanatic! I’m not kidding.

As a child, I played on baseball teams, and I enjoyed it. But I was never passionate about it. It’s the same with watching sports on TV - sure, I’ll watch it if there’s nothing else on, or if I’m with people who want to watch it - but, ultimately, it’s a game. I really don’t get much out of it.

On the other hand, I really enjoy watching individual sports, like swimming, diving, gymnastics, skating, etc. Yes, I take some ribbing that I’m a guy and I like skating better than football. Despite any insults to the contrary, it has nothing to do with a lack of masculinity, and everything to do with a respect for individualism and individual achievement. (I also enjoy boxing and watching martial arts matches)

So, I find it unfathomable how someone can expend so much energy on whether a team wins or loses. Speaking for myself, I really couldn’t care less. Like I said, it’s just a game.

And yet, people DO get all wrapped up in it. It finally occurred to me that there’s something about it that, for whatever reason, these people identify very strongly with. It’s the ever-popular us-versus-them mentality. When I think about it, it’s so simple that I can’t believe I never got it before. But, even knowing it, cerebrally, I STILL don’t get it! What’s the attraction? In my opinion, it is precisely this mentality that has caused ALL the problems in our world.

Us-versus-them. It’s kind of the definition of what it means to be tribal. One tribe want to grow and expand, but that necessitates the putting down of another tribe. And what is a tribe, anyway? It’s nothing but an artificially extended family. (Racism is, at its core, tribalism at its worst.) But then tribes grow into nations - and still that desire to grow at the expense of other nations is there.

It goes deeper than just sports, though. Sports is just the most obvious manifestation of the phenomenon. When I looked around more, I found bumper stickers for political parties, for religious points of view, for colleges, for fraternal organizations, etc. For some reason, a lot of people have an over-riding need to be identified with a particular group.

I’m a Christian, and I want to be identified as such, but only in the broadest possible sense. You will probably never see an ichthus fish on my car. You will probably never see a bumper sticker on the issue of abortion. Even though I generally vote for one party, you will probably never see a political sticker on my car (Actually, I had one ONCE, but I won’t again). Why? Because once people see anything that identifies you as being in any kind of group, you have effectively destroyed any chance of open communication.

Once someone sees the fish, for example, they ASSUME they know where you stand on every issue. If they see a political identifier, they ASSUME they know where you stand on every issue. Et cetera. So, the only communication that can ensue is either preaching to the choir, because they (presumably) agree with you on everything, or, in the event that your audience holds a contrary view, you instantly have a mountain of assumptions (some of which might be wrong) to overcome and their minds have already been closed to anything you have to say. Being identified with a group, any group, has an instantly polarizing effect on others.

On the other hand, I would say that I am very clannish. The funny thing is, I used to equate clans and tribes, but they actually are quite different. For one thing, a tribe usually has a leader or a small group of leaders. For another thing, a tribe may consist of several families, or perhaps even villages. Conversely, a clan is TRULY a family - yes, an extended family (cousins, etc.), but a naturally extended family, not an imposed one.

I have a deep love of my family. Not just my immediate family, but also the past generations of my family. In a sense, I am the family record keeper. I have all the information of my family tree going back to 1620, when we first came here from England. There is, in the record, circumstantial evidence that goes back to 1066. Unfortunately, this is unproven and, being this far removed, both in time and geographically, it will be quite a challenge getting confirmation that better equipped people than I have been unable to get. Be that as it may, I have a strong desire to learn as much about my family as I’m able to learn.

I understand there’s a danger, from a Christian perspective, with being too overly concerned with genealogy, but I love history, and what better than one’s own personal family’s history? I honestly believe that it’s impossible to divorce ourselves from the past, and we attempt to do so at our potential peril. It is the past that has created the present. To deny the past, or to have no knowledge of it, is to have no understanding of the present. Who I am, and what I am, is in large part due to what my ancestors did and who they were. I know some will disagree, and that’s okay, but it’s what I believe.

So, I don’t understand the tribal mentality, but I do understand the clan mentality. The main difference, to my mind, is that the tribe want to grow even to the detriment of other tribes, while the clan/family want to grow, but only in the natural order. As we have children, we grow, but we don’t go out to conquer in order to grow. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Clans generally just want to be left to their own. That’s how I feel - leave me and my family alone to flourish as we see fit, and we’ll extend the same courtesy to you and your family.

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