The Seth Godin Book, Tribes, is all good. In my class, it’s a required part of my curriculum. While walking my dog, I listened to it. Twice. And his TED Talk, “The Tribes We Lead,” is a must-watch for anyone aspiring to lead anything. It gives hope to all of us who don’t have mad skills, breathtaking beauty or extraordinary wealth.
Tribes teaches us to connect. Not with everyone. That’s not possible. Not with the majority. That’s not necessary. But with a core group of people who share our conviction, whatever it may be.
I’m obsessed with Godin’s story about Nathan Winograd. Winograd may never know it, but he’s one of my mentors. His cause – transforming cities and their animal shelters into no kill zones – doesn’t move everyone. But that’s OK. It doesn’t have to. To accomplish the improbable, which he did, it only needed a devoted tribe of zealous advocates.
That’s the yang.
The yin, the dark side of tribes, is the sports fan tribe that wants to maim anyone not wearing the right colors. The yin is the political tribe that refuses to accept anything the other side says as sensible or viable. The yin is the religion that believes its rituals and truths are the only rituals and truths. From cliques at school to border clashes from Crimea to Korea, tribes can be lethal to human relations. Loyalty is good. Too much loyalty is bad.
To be for something or someone doesn’t require that we be against something or someone. We can favor our team without denigrating its opponent – even its rival. If we allow ourselves to learn about the other side, we’ll probably find that it includes people we wish were on our side.
I got my commission as an Air Force officer through the ROTC program at UCLA. Both my daughters are hard core Bruins. My oldest got married on the UCLA campus. More than any other school, I support UCLA.
Still, more than a few of my favorite students have attended USC, none more special than Sammy Vo, a 2015 graduate of USC’s physician assistant program. Although it felt strange, I knew I wasn’t wrong when I slipped a Trojan tank top over my red sweatshirt and attended Sammy’s graduation on SC’s campus.
The tribe wasn’t mine, but it was still all fine. I didn’t feel disloyal. I was there for Sammy, not some tribe.