Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. – Jane Howard
Even the most introverted, solitude-loving poet belongs to one or more social groups. The importance of community and a network of family, friends and peers is hard to overstate – the various kinds of support we receive through interaction with others has been proven to be vital to our mental, emotional and physical health. It’s also part of how we define our place in the world. Whether or not the roles and stories we enact throughout our lives are useful and healthy has a great deal to do with how we choose to affiliate.
“Tribe” describes an idea of a society bound by various social, familial, economic, religious, ideological or genetic ties. The first tribes were groups of families, some related and some not. It’s a grouping of your social groups, in a way – your own tribe might include your immediate family, but someone else’s tribe may (out of necessity or choice) exclude theirs. It also potentially includes some of your coworkers, your godmother, your best friends and the four cats you live with. We’ll use “tribe” for today’s prompt in a fluid sense, as the group of groups (some of your choosing and some not) that you belong to.
Some parts of your tribe are longer-lasting than others – friends you’ve had since childhood, your birth or adopted family and extended family, wife or husband and maybe children of your own. The longer and deeper these relationships run, the more important their role in how your personal identity shapes.
Other groups will form part of your tribe only for a while, but these temporary groups – maybe based on your interests and activities, your career and hobbies – are also important. Perhaps you belong to an online writing group, or you’re one of many students of a famous musician. Maybe you’re close friends with members of your neighborhood. Maybe you work in the tightly knit finance department of your company, or you’re one of many nurses in a hospital. Social clubs, sports teams, cliques and memberships of all kinds support how we identify ourselves with (or against) others.
You can also belong to a larger group of people who you “know” on sight, or by some other association. For example, I feel a sort of tribal kinship whenever I’m in the company of people who work in animal rescue – we have a language and an understanding and an agenda that binds us, even if we’ve never actually met before. Because I strongly self-identify as a canine rescue advocate and this group supports that persona, I get a feeling of kinship, relevance and belonging when I interact with others in that group. Other people have this same feeling when they run into members of their college fraternity.
Another way to think about groups and tribes is common purpose. Common tribal purpose used to be tied to a physical territory and the challenges of resource protection, but we can define the “territories” of ourselves in many ways.
People congregate with each other towards goals – though they may not always be well-defined. If you are a member of a church, for example, goals and motivations within the group might vary: some wish to worship as a group under a particular religious tradition, some come out of a sense of duty or habit, others because it’s a good venue for community charitable works, others simply because it’s convenient to socializing with neighbors … and there’s always one or two who attend just because they like the singing.
It’s easy to affiliate and network online, as well – the explosion of social sites, bulletin boards and forums across the Internet over the last twenty years has completely transformed how we reach out, connect, reconnect and stay in touch with family, friends and others. It also makes it remarkably easy to “test drive” new groups, identities and aspects of the self without full commitment.
Write today’s poem about some aspect of a group you identify with.
* How do you define your current tribe?
* When has your tribe sustained, or failed to support you? When have they surprised or disappointed you?
* In what ways have you supported or failed to support others?
* Describe a symbol or image associated with a group you belong to.
* How vigorously do you defend your territories? Who aids you?
* Do you feel like an imposter or intruder in any of the groups you’re part of?
* Are there groups you’d like to be part of? What holds you back?
* Are all the groups in your tribe in harmony with each other? Where are they at cross purposes?
* What’s the first group you remember belonging to, besides your family?
* Explore which elements of your tribe come by default, and which you have deliberately chosen.
* Describe the positive and negative qualities of a group you belong to.