In My Tribe

Back in the ’80s, the phrase “In My Tribe” was most closely associated with the band 10,000 Maniacs, fronted by Natalie Merchant. The album of this name contained songs I can sing along with, word for word, today – many of them “issue” songs: child abuse, military conditioning of young men, depression, domestic violence.  I loved this album for many reasons, not the least of which is that its songs mirrored my political leanings as well as the issues I was in graduate school preparing to address. I had joined the 10,000 Maniacs’ tribe, for sure.

Today, I watched a TED talk by Seth Godin, here, in which he posits that tribes are what matter now, groups of people connecting and coming together over shared ideas. He says each of us has the ability to find something worth changing in the world, then assemble a group of people who share that vision. This group will, in turn, assemble another group and pretty soon, we have an agglomeration of groups affiliated with one another via this shared idea. And this new tribe of like-minded souls can change anything. Godin gives a nifty 3-step process on “How to Change Everything”: 1. Challenge the status quo. 2. Build a culture (connect people, develop a language that allows members to recognize each other, etc.) 3. Commit. At the end of his talk, he challenges the audience to take 24-hours (what Godin claims is all the time needed) and create a movement. If you have a few minutes, watch him, its definitely engaging whether you find yourself agreeing with him or not.

This week I am in an introspective space personally, and I find myself especially drawn to this concept of tribe. Particularly, the idea that one person might belong to several such groups, since they are idea or issue based.  I belong, for example, to the tribe of people who are concerned about where our food comes from, how it is processed and engineered, how it nourishes us or harms us. I am a new member of the tribe of bike-riding enthusiasts. More particularly, over the past couple of years, I feel like I have been working with a few committed others to build a tribe in our workspace. While it has taken us much longer than the suggested 24-hour time table proposed by Seth G., I like to think that our tribe is, in fact, changing the world (albeit slowly and one person at a time).

This tribe began as a group of strangers who happened to be hired to work together. I had been here for more than a decade, while the others were new to this environment. You always hope that you will connect with coworkers, and we did. However, something a little different than the usual work-related friendships began to develop. We began to challenge one another to reach for and embody what we value and what gives meaning and purpose to our work. We offered one another support, but we also challenged each other to live our best professional lives. One woman put it succinctly: holding up one hand at waist height, she said, “Most of us and the people around us are living here.” Then putting her other hand up at forehead height, she said, “We want, and need, to remember to live here.” High energy, high intent, high sense of values and purpose. As a result, we’ve created some amazing relationships, opportunities, programs. We have challenged and encouraged not only one another, but also our students and our institution, to strive for that higher plane. Has our work been perfect? No. Are there other tribes accomplishing good things here as well? Absolutely.

Ultimately, what makes this, or any tribe, special is the quality of the people and the vibrancy of their shared vision or cause. On the bike trail, I find a tribe of friendly, enthusiastic and welcoming others moving 10-30 mph. In the sustainable food tribe, I find others who put their food dollars where their mouths are (farmers’ markets, CSAs, organic, local) and who work tirelessly to educate themselves and others about their concerns. But in my tribe of colleagues, I have found people who sustain me, who push me, who comfort and mentor me. And I know they find those things in me, as well. And as we engender passion and compassion in one another, we pass it on to others with whom we come in contact. I have to believe that this is how we, in our small way, are changing our world.

(NOTE: This week, today in fact, my dear friend and valued colleague, Tricia moves on to the next phase in her life and the life of her family. She has been pivotal in creating an environment in which our tribe has flourished. We are all sad to see her go – Tricia may be most sad of all – but that is one of the great things about the idea of a tribe. Our connection is about the ideas and passions we share, not about our physical location.)