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Transcending and transforming tribalism

Humans have been around for about 200,000 years, and for about 99% of that time we lived tribal lives, which meant that the vast majority of our genetic and cultural evolution took place in an environment where we rarely trusted anyone outside our small groups.

Today, tribal life looks very different. Instead of living in groups simply defined by where we were born, we live in multiple tribes that are defined by common interests and ideas. Instead of interacting with other tribes in rare instances, we collide and cause conflict every day.

The biggest problem here is that in many ways we are still programmed to treat other tribes the way we did for the majority of our past. With distrust, distance, and sometimes even disdain. However, if we’re going to be able to evolve as a species with 8 billion individuals, we need to rethink how we interact with each other.

This requires us to create more inclusive and collaborative approaches. I’ve been deeply interested in this topic for over a decade and I’m actually cautiously optimistic about our future. This is because I’ve noticed three distinct phases of tribal maturity that seem to be arising out of our necessity to evolve. It’s easiest to see this maturation at the level of the individual.

And interestingly, it seems to happen somewhat independently in our lives. This means that our tribal maturity can differ across many interests, whether it’s our politics, philosophy, or favorite sports team. These developmental phases have very distinct characteristics.

Phase 1: Tribal

Defined by our ancestors and common early in life and early in the pursuit of new interests.

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  • Deep social connections and rich with in-group collaboration and learning.
  • Strong certainty in the truth of ideas and interests held by the tribe.
  • Distrust of other groups that have conflicting perspectives.

Phase 2: Anti-Tribal

A reactionary aversion to tribes after seeing the faults and limitations of Phase 1.

  • Prizes and strives for more objective perspectives.
  • Spends significant time unlearning previous tribal dogmas.
  • Primarily develops outside of social circumstances.

Phase 3: Meta-Tribal

A constructive phase that utilizes the positive aspects of Phases 1 and 2 in a personalized way.

  • Strives to utilize tribal approach appropriate for each unique circumstance.
  • Develops ways of being that are personal, flexible and creative.
  • Explores interests and ideas personally and socially, but always with an open mind.

This paints in broad strokes the phases of development. If you would like to take a deeper dive into this topic, you can hear more about the philosophy and one of my personal tribal stories on my latest podcast episode (20 minutes) – “2.1 Tribes”. Listen below.

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