Co-Creating A Global Tribe

Posted on May 8, 2012

The Global TribeMarketing guru Seth Godin is talking about Tribes. And so were we, yesterday at the professional women’s networking meeting I attended, where the topic was Co-creation.

According to Seth, “A tribe is a group of people, connected to each other, connected to a leader and connected to an idea.” His book, and the topic. came up at our table.

I got to thinking. And my thoughts formed around three main ideas:

1. Belonging.

My concept of a tribe, developed through my life, has been that it was something one was born into, something you were part of without doing anything, just because of who you were. It gave context to the individual, the couple, the family and the community. It gave a sense of security and belonging.

Having been a student of Latin in my younger years, I like to know the origins of words. The origins of this word, to my surprise, indicate that it was used to distinguish and separate one group of people from another.

The English word tribe comes from the old French tribu, which comes from the Latin tribus. And tribus refers to the original three-part division of ethnic groups within the Roman State: the Latins, the Sabines and the Etruscans.

Thus, the tribe that joins us with some must also separate us from others. We belong with one group because we are unlike another. I question that.

2. Technology.

My father was born in 1910. He saw the introduction of the automobile in the small Virginia town where he grew up. He went to school sitting on the back of his father’s delivery cart, which was drawn by a horse. When I was a child, he used to say to me, “Our greatest problem as a society is that we are too mobile.”

As cars became buses and trucks and airplanes, my father watched the glue that once held his society together drying up and flaking away. The social structures it had held – family, worship, local communities – started to come apart at the seams. People moved for better opportunities and left their tribes behind them.

It’s perhaps just as well that he didn’t live to see the World Wide Web, the Internet, email or social media. The expansion continues. And, as Nobel prize-winning scientists are proving, the expansion of the universe is not slowing down; it is speeding up.

The physical and geographical walls that separated us are coming down. Unlike my father, I don’t think this is a bad thing. But the expansion of the world we live in is destabilizing, and learning to cope with it requires consciousness and creativity. This is where Seth’s subtitle rings so true, “We need you to lead us.”

3. The Global Tribe.

This weekend, I met an international high school teacher. He spoke of some of his students, young men addicted to video war games. Without the skills to express themselves in the world, “They are,” he observed, “angry.” And who can blame them? Expression – an essential part of the creative process – is not about art; it is about living. When life energy – especially powerful in young men and women – has no creative outlet, it becomes destructive.

My tribe, I recognized as a teenager, built a box to keep us “safe.” That box was an ideological (religious) viewpoint that separated us from all those who did not believe what we did. People were classified as either X or nonX. That was how my tribe saw the world, so it’s what I learned too. After enough attempts to see outside that box, I eventually caught a glimpse of a world where boxes could be broken down and ideas expressed with respect and compassion. And that has moved me through life ever since.

Many people never leave their tribe, so perhaps they don’t feel the vacancy I have. Yet technology is breaking down barriers, so that even those who never leave – from the backwoods of Texas to the deserts of Libya – see different ways to live. But without a common idea, these differences too often breed animosity and hate. It’s time to ride the tide of our expanding universe, and expand our thinking as well.

Hollywood said it first in 1938:  “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.” I will always have my history. But I don’t have to continue to create my life from it. Especially as I see the splendor of life’s diversity throughout the world, I realize what a poverty that would be. For me, having come from where I did, I prefer to find the lowest common denominator of tribal belonging.

Webster defines tribe as “a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest.” Of all the biological life forms on Earth today, there is none more like a woman than a man, none more like a Republican than a Democrat, none more like Muslim than a Christian. Can we open up to rediscover our human heritage outside our tribes of origin? What if we could co-create a global tribe based on common character rather than intolerable differences? What kind of future might our young men (and young women) inherit then?

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