Tribalism and Ego
- In a recent discussion of tribalism, an astute reader said: “We’ll never get past tribalism. But we can learn to redefine who’s in “our” tribe. That’s what was so great about the original Star Trek. They were a “human” tribe learning to expand even more to include aliens.”
I think that’s very true, part of what we loved about that show–the promise of growing beyond the problems plaguing our world and society which have roots in that particular human trait. And yet, “tribalism”, the preference for “your own” is not some kind of sin. It is simple reality. We all know it is a sad, sick situation when people are more comfortable with strangers than their own family. This doesn’t have to grow into sexism, racism, homophobia or whatever. Tribalism is cheering for the home team. Racism is believing the opposing team is inferior. Vicious bigotry is knee-capping the captain of the opposing team.
Whenever I coach, one aspect of childhood programming–even in healthy, loving homes–causes more problems than any other. It is the sense that we can’t be happy, or worthy, or lovable, unless we make others happy. Part and parcel of this is the sense that we are responsible for the emotional happiness of others. “You made me feel X” is a symptom of this.
And while there are aspects of reality in this, it is the child part of us that tries to make others responsible for our emotional states. As children we had no emotional control. Not only that, but we were helpless, literally surrounded by magical giants who produced shelter, food, and goods from thin air. Pleasure and punishment were at their whim. I hear people complaining about parents “programming” kids, “forcing” them to do this or that, and imprinting their values upon them and on and on.
Ever raised a kid? They don’t know their centers, and they don’t know their edges. They have no idea what will kill them, or the difference between long and short term pleasure. They don’t have discipline, they have fascinations. As parents, we have to prepare them to survive without us. A parent who can’t withstand the storms and tears as a child tries to assert control of her own mind and body (“I hate you! I can’t do ANYTHING. You get to do EVERYTHING” and so forth. “Nobody’s on my side!”) simply isn’t being an adult.
You need your kid’s approval? Really? Ouch. I’ve got all the friends I need. Jason is my son, not my buddy.
But note how easily that can be warped: parents do ANYTHING to get their kids to learn the lessons they will need to survive. Eventually, they all learn that if they tell their kid “the way you act makes me feel X” that kids understand that, because their own non-existent ego walls react just that way to external input. “You make me angry!!” Well, yeah, but not in the way that cutting someone makes them bleed. An external action or word has to be interpreted by emotional filters and belief and value systems to produce emotional responses. The precise same word or action will be interpreted in a dozen different ways by different people, or even the same person at different times.
So X made this person happy, this person angry, that person horny, and this other person giggle. Who is responsible for the responses? If the people themselves aren’t, no one is. As parents, we take responsibility for our children’s emotions, not because we love them, but because they are children and have no greater maturity.
But…what happens when this tendency continues into adulthood? “You’re responsible for my emotions” is at BEST co-dependency. Worse is mutual manipulation. And worse still is one-sided manipulation, where one partner is crushed by guilt, blame and shame, and endlessly controlled by someone who knows where your emotional “buttons” are.
The way “out” is selfishness. The very thing these manipulators accuse you of when you want the same benefits and privileges in life they demand. To love yourself FIRST. Take care of yourself FIRST. This is the begining of individuation, the awareness of what is “you” and what is “not-you”. This is first-stage stuff. Kindergarten. But the trick is that once you’ve filled your own tank, it is time to drive somewhere.
Once you no longer need the approval of others, cannot be manipulated by guilt, and really own your emotions…a HEALTHY person begins to expand their definition of “self.” That’s it. You begin to feel that others are a part of you, that Kung! tribe “num” concept of “one spirit looking out through many eyes.” This is empathy, and the root of “altruism.” Doing for others feels good because they ARE you. Simple. You see through the illusion. Once you have your center, you don’t need your walls.
Love yourself. Find your center. Then dissolve your walls and expand out to family, loved ones, community, all mankind, all life, all existence.
There’s a danger to this of course. There have to be limits. People who don’t have their center give away too much. You can empty your pockets to strangers while your own children starve. Care so much about the environment that you forget the human beings struggling to live in it. There has to be a balance between “too much openness” and “too much closedness”. (I think this describes part of our political divide, btw. Leave it as an exercise in either memory or extrapolation which side of the aisle tends to err in which direction)
First, walls. Then, a center. Then…expand. It is actually fairly easy to see the growth through the stages. It isn’t a straight line, and people don’t grow evenly all at once. But this is the direction.
Tribalism is fine…racism is natural but problematic and bigotry are its poison fruit.
Ego is fine…taking care of yourself is natural and a necessary step, but failing to see that others are as human as you is the beginning of sin.
If you hate yourself, you will either think the rest of the world sucks too, or that they are golden creatures while unworthy you crawls in the mud. If you aren’t free of the need for approval, you will either be desperate, or mask your inferiority sense with a superior attitude.
The way out is the precise opposite of what your parents told you, and that you tell your children: you are free. You don’t need our approval. You are beautiful and wonderful as you are.
The trick to never, ever being intimidated by another human being is not needing other people to be intimidated by you. The trick to feeling love, and positivity and gratitude every day is “un hooking” yourself from what is critical in ignorant childhood (dependency. It keeps us alive) but becomes co-dependent in adulthood (although ANY and EVERY society encourages it. It isn’t a “bad” thing. It is just an emergent aspect of what communities are in the first place: families writ large) and can curdle into toxic nightmare if the patriarch or matriarch of the family/society is wicked or weak or fearful.
Our leaders are no worse than we are. It is sadly funny to hear people complain about how stupid or venal or corrupt our politicians are. Ever watch a political discussion on Facebook? Look at the threads, people! Imagine if YOU had to try to achieve consensus among all those self-centered self-righteous people. No matter what you did, someone would consider you a tyrant and a fool. Period. So the natural conclusion by people who don’t see this is that politicians are somehow worse than the population from which they arise.
That’s comforting, but I believe, unconscious. Few complaints about politicians aren’t mirrored in what teenagers say about their own damned parents. And what THEIR kids will one day say about them. And it goes round and round on the generational carousel.
What’s the door out? WAKE UP. DECIDE to be conscious. Commit to cutting your strings. Start with self-love and a commitment to NEVER holding others responsible for your emotions again…and then REFUSE to let any adult hold you responsible for theirs. Just say “no.”
That’s the doorway. And how to achieve self-love? Twenty minutes a day of heartbeat meditation is a fine start. Do that for a month and you’ve laid an excellent foundation for further work. You’ve stepped across a line.
See you on the other side.