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The Benefits Tribal Behavior for Families (August 15, 2016)

Four times in the last three weeks the concept and benefits of tribal behavior has presented itself to me. I decided to pay attention. If you stick with me you’ll see how this matters to families striving for both current and generational ‘healthiness’.

I’ve been fascinated by the tribe concept since I first read Seth Godin’s Tribes which outlines the pull of shared interests and values. He points out that tribes come together all the time, such as when someone will drive hundreds of miles to be with other people who own the same old (vintage) car they own. But this is not the type of tribe and tribal behavior I’m talking about. Gatherings of car owners are more akin to the old mountain man rendezvous when all would come together once a year. The tribal concept I’m referring to is more along the lines of Native Americans as described by Sebastian Junger in his recent book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. Junger explored the research, both historical and current, around the benefits and draw of tribes like the Native American ones and the military.

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and author of The Road to Character, commenting on Junger’s book, wrote on August 9th, 2016:

In 18th century America, colonial society and Native American sat side by side. The former was buddingly commercial; the latter was communal and tribal. As time went by, the settlers from Europe noticed something: No Indians were defecting to join colonial society but many whites were defecting to live in the Native American one. This struck them as strange. Colonial society was richer and more advanced. And yet people were voting with their feet the other way.

I first read this history several months ago in Sebastian Junger’s excellent book “Tribe”. It has haunted me since. It raises the possibility our culture is built on some fundamental error about what makes people happy and fulfilled.

Junger describes a tribe as ‘a community you live in, share resources with and one you would risk your life to defend’ and everyone in it has the same view. Junger goes on to identify two key characteristics common to a real tribal type of community. First, a lot of ongoing human contact and interaction. Second, a sense of trust in and respect or esteem for the other members of the tribe.  A sort of ‘we all have each other’s back no matter what’ ethos.

In modern life this is very difficult to find unless you focus on creating it.

Here’s Sebastian Junger in a June 29, 2016 interview on PBS:   (View the interview HERE.)

Well, the irony of modern society, for all of its very real benefits — I mean, modern society is a miracle in a lot of ways, right? But as affluence goes up in a society, the suicide rate tends to go up, not down.

As affluence goes up in a society, the depression rate goes up. When a crisis hits, then people’s psychological health starts to improve. After 9/11 in New York City — I live in New York — and after 9/11, the suicide rate went down in New York, not up. It went down. It improved.

Violent crime went down. Murder went down. There was a sense of everyone needs each other. And once you’re called to serve your community, in some way, you sort of forget your own problems.

I think what you’re seeing in this political season are political camps deciding that they are their own tribe and it’s us against them. And I think the trick — and this country is in a very, very tricky place socially, economically, politically — I think the trick, if you want to be a functioning country, a nation, a viable nation, you have to define tribe to include the entire country, even people you disagree with.

Disagreement is great, debate is great, conflict is great. It’s how we all get better.

 What you can’t do is have contempt for your fellow citizens. That is destructive.

No soldier in a trench in a platoon in combat would have contempt for their trench mate. They might not like them. They disagree with them, but you don’t have contempt for someone that your life depends on. And that’s what we’re falling into in the political dialogue in this country.

Junger does not romanticize either the Native American tribe or the military tribe. In both cases life was and is not easy. Mutual expectations were known and had to be respected. He acknowledges that in many cases tribes can become closed systems. My focus is on what we can learn from the draw many tribes had on the members of the more ‘advanced’ colonial society. What did the tribe give members that trumped the relatively larger comforts of ‘modern society’?

So what does this have do with your family and your Family Wealth Plan? A family that functions with tribal values will retain family members and draw others to it. In the world today that will not happen by chance. The family needs to proactively develop, articulate and sustain some key practices which include:

A strong healthy communication strategy.

A learning system that honors the unique abilities and knowledge of each member.

An understanding of shared principles such as Compassion, Gratitude and Personal Empowerment.

These can all be incorporated into your long term wealth structures, documents and family practices. I will explore these more deeply in future posts. In the meantime, if you would like to talk about how some of this thinking would benefit you and your family please reach out to me by phone, text or email.



The Benefits Tribal Behavior for Families (August 15, 2016)