A presidential election season reveals a lot about our country. Some of what it reveals is good and noble. Some of it, well…never mind. Among the many “reveals” is an obvious but overlooked reality. We humans are tribal. We flock together around identities and interests. We work to make specific change in the world. Not convinced? Just head to your local mall, a political rally, or a thousand other events and you’ll see the signs of tribal activity.
The highest and most noble aspiration of any tribe, political or otherwise, should be to create alchemy in the world. Alchemy happens when you take what you have (your raw materials) and turn it into what you need in order to overcomes challenges and seize opportunities. This then should make the world (not just my world) a better place.
During an election season, tribes do their best to create alchemy around their chosen candidates, as well important issues. Many tribe members work tirelessly with their raw materials, hoping to turn them into gold, into victory. Each political party believes it has the answers–and the alchemy–needed to move our country forward. And here’s where a real danger rears its ugly head.
Instead of joining forces to increase the possibility and quality of alchemy, political tribes “go to war”. This creates a winner take all mindset. And as we know, tribal divisions of these sorts can bring out the worst in us; including violence against each other.
What’s also lost during tribal warfare are ingenious ideas and actions that could help to overcome obstacles and seize openings. These ingenious ideas fade because tribes are unwilling to suspend judgment, entertain multiple perspectives, and find common ground as a starting point. Think of it this way. How likely is it that differing tribes will create ingenious solutions after an election cycle when they were at war during it?
Alchemy is of course easier to create when we are in the safety of our own tribes. But perhaps the real measure of a tribe’s effectiveness comes as it creates alchemy with tribes of different beliefs, viewpoints, and values. We instinctively know this to be the case in politics. For example, we celebrate bipartisan effort – when tribes create alchemy rather than warfare – as a positive anomaly that deserves its fifteen minutes of fame. This must change. Creating national (and global for that matter) alchemy requires that we work across “tribal lines” as the norm not the exception.
Tribes will always feel passionate about their identities and ideas. Tribes will always feel more at home living in and acting out of their ideals. That’s just part of being human. But to progress together we must mute the primal desire to eradicate differing tribes and instead create alchemy out of diversity. It’s the only way forward.