CAERS SUBSTACK ARTICLE #32
CAERS SUBSTACK ARTICLE #32
Almost one third of our brain is devoted to communicating with one another. More than most of us realize, our need for social contact greatly influences how we think, what we say and how we act. Most of what we claim to ‘know’ we have not discovered on our own but has been provided for us by a fellow human. This should not be surprising or discomforting, because there are simply not enough hours in our lives to learn all we have to learn entirely on our own, so to some degree we have to depend on others in order to survive and grow.
When looking for the information we require, we have a tendency to rely on people with whom we have the most intimate contact. The more their information guides us well, the more we come to trust them. It is through their recommendations that we often learn to trust more faraway sources of knowledge as well. Those more remote sources may be distant in space, across the globe, or distant in time, our ancestors, or both. Regardless, we develop an attachment to those who have taught us well and with whom we share a similar worldview. They become for us our ‘tribe’, a place where we belong and feel safe.
Tribalistic tendencies characterize humans perhaps more than any other species, and there is nothing wrong with that per se. We often remain in closer contact with multiple generations of our own families, identify more with people with the same religious beliefs, associate more with those with similar ethnic backgrounds, etc. But if we are not careful, bonding with any particular tribe can result in such a strong attachment that we can easily forget the existence and legitimacy of other tribes with which we may or may not be familiar. That can lead both to an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality, as well as to a certain degree of close-mindedness.
It has been said that culture is our way of hiding our hatred of change. Although I think that sentiment is rather cynical, all change does involves loss, so we can find ourselves clinging to our tribal culture as much from fear of loss as out of deep respect for it.
When we react out of fear rather than well-considered respect, there is always the risk that we might put our moral compasses in our pocket, so to speak, in order to simply fit in with the tribe and maintain the status quo. At times an unpleasant tension can arise between our tribalistic need to belong and our individual conscience.
Have any of us experienced fear as a motivating factor during the pandemic? Have we witnessed any evidence of tribal speech or behaviour? Have any of us engaged in ‘us’ and ‘them’ thinking? Have any of us seen evidence of close-mindedness?
We will always be a highly social species, and we will always have a tendency to tribalism. None of that need be problematic provided that we do not forget that ultimately there is one big tribe that matters most to us and to which we all belong: homo sapiens. Historically when we have forgotten that simple fact, our species has not behaved so well. Let’s make sure this is not one of those times.
J. Barry Engelhardt MD (retired) MHSc (bioethics)
CAERS Health Intake Facilitator
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