Tribal Mentality in the 21st Century

Sometimes our Tribal Mentality triggers conflicts, wars, hatred, and injustice.

Tribal Mentality in the 21st Century

Many people have been “brought up” with a set of beliefs that sometimes were just inherited from other times. Once they are made aware of their own line of thought, they are more ready to change.

I train translators, interpreters and bilingual personnel. As such, cultural competency is at the root of our profession, where we transfer content from one language into another, either verbally or in writing. In that context, I stress my alignment with the thought that we humans STILL today function under a “Tribal Mentality“. This Tribal Mentality is a trait that was extremely useful for the development of the species, but which should have become progressively obsolete in the 21st Century. But that has not happened yet, or at least not to the level that our presumably civilized society should require .

Such Tribal Mentality is, in my opinion, one of the largest triggers of conflicts, wars, hatred, and injustice.

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The “us” Vs. “them” mentality is an “inherent” and “inherited” trait that today prevents our growth as human beings in our interconnected, multicultural world. We must therefore consciously work to expose this trait, if we want to overcome it one day. There are very strong underpinnings of thought and subconscious beliefs, attitudes and feelings that are reflected in our Tribal Mentality, many of which are indeed taught to us by our childhood tribes: family, school, neighborhood, church and the like, to ensure their own continued existence.

Since Culture represents the “models” of things we have in our mind (how we perceive the world, relate with it, interpret things, and even understand ourselves), the fundamentals of Culture may be found in the collective programming of our minds, which differentiate the members of one group of people from another. We are of different races and many ethnicities, different genders, social classes, nationalities, and religions. We have thousands of mother languages. We have huge ideological differences and if we were to talk about something like politics or religion, we might end on opposite sides of the discussion. Some of us might have beliefs and behaviors that are totally unacceptable to others. And yet, when we go out into the world and have to relate with each other, we must find common traits that unite us. Or we must understand the sources of our differences and the origin of our thoughts and our “gut feelings” about others.

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What is it about our mind that makes us believe so strongly in the “right” and “wrong” of categories such as race, gender and ethnicity? Why do we feel kinship towards some groups of people and aversion towards others? Why do we sort everything into groups, or kinds of things or events? The answer is that we are “hardwired” to associate in categories. Like computers, that is the “software” we are born with. By default. Our nervous system is predisposed to organize perceptions into groups. This is at the core of one of the fundamentals of humanity: We mostly think in terms of WE vs. THEM (“we” the xyz Vs. “them” the abc — fill in the blank with anything and you will find “opposing” groups we could come up with). As noted earlier, this at the center of most religious conflicts, political adversities, and most rivalries. It is at the core of the concepts of country and culture.

Concepts that denote “my” group or “my” religion or “my” race or “my” country are the true root causes of an incredibly large proportion of conflicts in societies past and present, where mostly one group believes that their “my” is better than the other group’s “my” (known as “their” position). Now then, these issues exist because a long time ago, the Tribal Mind was vital for our survival, because we were surrounded by wild animals and needed to hunt, so group identification and cohesion was important for survival.

But by carrying these thought processes into the 21st Century, what are we really “preserving”? Whose thoughts are we expressing, provided to us in our formative years and remaining with us without challenge? How can we overcome this hardwired structure of thinking in terms of “my” tribes and choose our own way of processing our perceptions?

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Our Tribal Mentality should progressively start to serve no purpose in the world of tomorrow – which is already here today. In our Global Village, we need to consciously reflect on our responsibility of owning the US-Vs-THEM concept instead of allowing it to dictated our way of seeing the world. Much of “common sense” is actually totally contrary to nature; for example, in the past, slavery was “natural”; and it was “normal” for women to be the property of their husbands; and more recently, only heterosexuals deserved “respect”. All these concepts were created at one point in history to preserve the “superior” position of a group over another, and later became a prevalent attitude (with corresponding actions) among large groups of people or, as I like to call it, large tribes.

Therefore, in our Global Village of the 21st Century, where our Tribes should be much more homogeneous, in many ways the Tribes have multiplied and have become more aggressive and “territorial”. How many of the “common sense” thoughts and attitudes we hold today as dear are really outdated, unjustified, unfair, and detrimental to our relationships as human beings? How much of our Tribal Mentality is simply wrong? Culture is in essence how we “perceive” our world and how the world “perceives” us. How much of our Cultural perception needs to be revamped?

Remember that our perceptions are hardwired as part of our Tribal Mentality, which is fostered and fed in our earlier years by our family tribe, our religious tribe, our neighborhood tribe, our school tribe, our social-class tribe, our race and ethnicity tribes, our country-of-origin tribe, our language tribe, our gender “ tribe… Each of these tribes is interested in its own survival and thus, in time creates a series of concepts that transcend reality and which serve to define that tribe in society. How many of these concepts do we carry as truths that we never even question, that we are not even aware we have in the background of our mind? Remember it is kind of the “software” that we came into life with by default, which keeps running “in the background” of our heads unless we “update” it to the new values and concepts that we may develop on our own.

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Because there are, of course, other tribes we “subscribe” to, either personally or professionally, voluntarily or forced by circumstances, such as our higher education tribes (university students, for example); trade and business tribes (associations, clubs, coalitions, corporations, and the like); country-of-residence “tribe”; social class tribes (chosen in adulthood); technological tribes (user of landlines Vs. smartphones, for example); our secondary languages tribes, our age tribes (Veterans, Baby Boomers, Gen-X, Gen-Y, Gen-Z), and even the tribes we associate to on the basis of our personality types (Extroverts vs Introverts, etc).

The Tribal Mentality tells the members of that tribe what is and what is not possible within the structure of their reality. Since it ensures the survival of the respective group, it strongly imposes values, rituals, symbols, heroes and shared memories to promote group identification and thus loyalty to the “tribe”. In today’s world, the purpose of the Tribal Mentality is no other than to “indoctrinate” each member of that specific tribe on the tribe’s beliefs and rules, to make sure that ALL members of the tribe believe, and agree, and behave accordingly.

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There are many other tribes besides those mentioned above, to which we belong by birth, by choice, or by circumstances. What is important is to start understanding and identifying the different tribes that are influencing our “perception” of our reality. Once you start identifying this, you will be able to understand your world much better, and then make your own choices about your own thoughts and actions.

We must become the change we want!

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Afterthoughts:

There are several ways to break the cycle, including awareness and education. Many people have been “brought up” with a set of beliefs that sometimes were just inherited from other times. Once they are made aware of their own line of thought, they are more ready to change. Exposure is another way, the more someone is exposed to another culture (in the right way), the more tolerant and understanding of that culture they will become. Integration, education and travel work well. And the global village of today, instant, digital, cross-cultural, interracial and multilingual, is having a tremendous impact on the way people think. Talk to most young adults today and you will see that they don’t have the prejudices of their parents, for the most part, because they have been exposed to the rest of the world. But we have a long way to walk and it will be a matter of generational change.

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Originally posted here in 2012.


Photo credits. All from www.flickr.com/photos (commons)

(*1) Beatriz Murch

(*2) Kevin Dooley

(*3) United Nations Development

(*4) Ariehsinger

(*5) Missouri State Archives

(*6) Smithsonian Institute