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You Are A Tribal Person

You Are A Tribal Person

Do you belong to a tribe? The answer is: you probably do. Unless you are a parthenogenically-produced hermit living in a log cabin in the inaccessible woods, you belong, even peripherally, to some tribe. It can be a sports team, religion, government or corporate entity, spiritual group, sorority or fraternity, country, cult, ethnic group, profession, sex, race, military branch, political party, pro or anti movement, or any other special interest group. And even though you may not want to admit it, it probably skews the way you look at the world. When events occur, you ask, even if you don’t formulate the words: is it good for us? Does it fit with my, or our view of the way things should be?

The good part of being tribal is that you have fascinating rituals, beliefs and convictions. When I travel, I actively seek out groups practicing customs that are different from mine. On the island of Mog Mog, I learned a different way to look at funerals and death. In Nova Scotia, I was wowed by the celebration of life at the scene of great tragedy. In Denver, I attended my first baseball game as an adult, and was as intrigued by what happened in the stadium as I was by the excitement on the field. In Taipei, a temple with multiple gods was an eye-opener: people could pick and choose to whom they wanted to address their prayers and longings. In Guatemala, I learned that a shawl draped over the shoulder of a Maya girl can indicate she’s open to finding a beloved. In Thailand, I loved the spirit houses people built. In Istanbul, my heart soared at a Sufi ceremony. In Tunisia, it was very moving to be included in an iftar meal, where the fast of Ramadan was broken at night. On the island of Djerba, I was awed by the annual Ghriba celebration in the ancient Jewish community. In Ukraine, a male church choir, hitting impossibly low notes, took my breath away.

The bad part of being tribal? There is generally a separation between us and them, and it is implied that “we” are superior to the others, or “we” see the truth and “they don’t.” Sometimes this sense of difference can be harmless, and other times it can be downright frightening and dangerous. In the former case, it may include particular ways of praying to and propitiating God or gods. In the latter case, it can lead to opening fire in a house of prayer or on a sports field because “they” are perceived as the enemy, and they need to be eliminated.

In the course of a day, do you refer to any group—whites, blacks, Republicans, Democrats, Occupy members, Coptics, Arabs, Jews, gays, Chinese, French---in pejorative terms? Do you say that “they” always do this, or raise their children to be indifferent to human life? Do you allude to their physical, mental, moral or spiritual inferiority? Do you use words like “hate” or do you screw up your face in scorn? Do you diss or dismiss any group of people who are not like you?

Well, dear reader, would you be willing to explore that this is harmful tribal behavior? That is may be racist, sexist, elitist, ageist and all the other “ists?”

Here is a test: Do you think you can go for 24 hours, 48 hours or even 36 hours without disparaging ANY other group of people?

All of us wonder what we can do to stop senseless wars, killing, terrorism, suicide, mass murders? Well, perhaps this is as good a place as any to start.

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Photo by Paul Ross.

About the author: Judith Fein is a multiple award-winning travel writer and speaker and the author of LIFE IS A TRIP: The Transformative Magic of Travel. Her website is

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