“Can I find my tribe?” is a haunting question in today’s hyper-diasporic world.
Last night, in class, we watched a documentary on Aravind Eye Hospital in India, to learn about social and reverse innovation in the global landscape. It was extraordinarily evocative for me. The sounds, sights, and emotional tonality made me terribly nostalgic for my home state of Tamil Nadu. The fact that I haven’t filled my usual quota of summertime travel in India added to it. My heart, like every migrant, is in many places. It made me think about tribes and how we evolve within our tribes.
Finding your tribe is a potent discourse. Seth Godin wrote a best-selling book about finding creating and leading your tribe of passion.When we all grow up and live in the same place, following well-trodden paths, our identity is embedded in our tribe of origin. People went to the same schools together, probably went to work in the same places, ran around with the same crowd, prayed and mourned together and your tribe is your context. The human need for a tribe is primal and foundational to our evolution and survival. When we don’t have a readymade tribe or wish to go beyond our tribal trajectories, humans still tend to seek and form new tribes. I belong to the academic tribe. I also belong to a tribe that parents like I do. Part of me belongs to my Indian roots. Like a tree that grows its roots where it is planted, I also have deep roots and emotional ties to the US. I feel at home everywhere or where, depending on my mood.
One thing that disturbs me deeply about this discourse is that while tribes provide identity, meaning, purpose, and connection, tribal identities are also deeply divisive. I have written an academic paper about tribal mental models in which we suspend transactional, economic mental models and extend benevolence for a select few with whom we share an identity system. Tribal mental models are divisive. Yes, it is important to find a community in which we thrive. But unless we move beyond our tribal affiliation, we will never be able to self-actualize and become our ascendant and transcendent selves. Evidence of this divisive nature of tribal identity system is all over the world. I have written about the nature of these difficult conversations between tribes before. It is not easy, but important for us to evolve as a race. I am unabashedly critical but also unabashedly optimistic about our capacity for growth, change, and benevolence. Viyan likes to echo his history/anthropology professor that one thing that makes all we have is our capacity for imagination and abstract thought. We created cultures, civilizations, buildings, art, music, literature, politics, governments among other artifacts because we share the paradoxically rare and ubiquitous trait of imagination.
So, yes, follow your passion, find your tribe, love them hard, and thrive. But let us go beyond our tribes and find ways to connect with other tribes. Because we are capable of it. And we need it to expand our moral circle. Paradoxically, for this, we need to embrace our marginality and not be afraid of being alone. Embrace our history and identity and not be its prisoners.