The pitch of political sniping on social media seems substantially more frenzied than usual, even for a presidential election year. Between the Trump Train and the Bernie Bros, my feed is cluttered with memes that caricaturize Hillary Clinton as a comic book super villain delivering doom and death to democracy, and the news outlets I follow are so profoundly obsessed with every last base and appalling thing that comes out of Trump’s Twitter account that the feel-good stuff of Bon Appetit and Humans of New York has essentially been drowned in a chaotic torrent of partisan sparring matches and the clambering to be right by any feat of selective truth necessary. A colleague’s husband posted this article this morning, and it gave me pause, particularly because it inflamed my tribal loyalties in both the reproductive and political arenas while also sounding a humanitarian call for greater compassion and unity across the gulfs of ideology that was hard to dismiss.

Periodically I am reacquainted with the influence of similar tribal alliances in this community, and how those subtle divisions can blind us to the plight of another. These networks become invaluable sources of support in a time of crisis, in part, because we can seek out women whose experiences parallel our own and share an empathy grounded in real, gory, personal experience, but all that yummy solidarity sometimes comes at the price of steeping oneself in a highly filtered world, like the false reality of Facebook feeds where all dissenters have been effortlessly unfollowed. Further, the intimacy of those bonds can forge loyalties that cloud perspective-taking. Mathes ends his post with the plea,

Division is a choice…Our love, our listening, must bring in, not edit out. Dare to listen, dare to be quiet, dare to seek understanding.

Maybe that would hush all the competitive noise.

9 thoughts on “Tribes

  1. You know, until I read this, I hadn’t been able to verbalize it. But yet, even the schmaltzy stuff isn’t coming through anymore because it’s political posts all.the.time. I’m not unfollowing or silencing because… that’s not my style. I’m just spending less time there and more time on blogs.


    • I am strangely addicted, like a car wreck you can’t turn away from. I took the FB app off my phone because I realized it’s just generating so much NOISE. This is also how I refrain from contributing to it, as I am easily baited by DJT’s antics.


  2. I’m totally sick of all the memes and political stuff on FB and I’m not even in the US. (I will vote when the time comes.) Like Mel, I’m not deleting or silencing (I’m pointing at my stepmom, the always loudest of them all), but I’m not there as much.


    • A good strategy! Some of the political things I see people post has started to actual color the way I see them as people. That’s how I know I need a respite.


  3. It’s always good for us to be reminded to step back and understand that we see things differently based on our own experiences, and that others aren’t wilfully interpreting things differently to offend or annoy us, but simply because that’s how it is for them. I have a relationship with someone where I’ve always understood that they saw things differently, but finally this year have understood that the other person is, I think, both a) unaware that this is a choice, and b) incapable of stepping back and looking at something a different way. Accepting that has made a big difference in our relationship. Whilst it is frustrating to feel that I am the only one making this effort, I am doing it because I know I’m the one who is able to see both sides.

    This is a good reminder to all of us to sometimes step back and see something from another’s point of view.


  4. I so love that quote. I wish more people dared to listen, to be quiet, to seek understanding rather than to divide up people into factions and feel so self-righteous about it. I feel like as a society, not to generalize or anything, that we are suffering from a huge empathy deficit. In part because of how easy it is to tear people down or be held up by people with similar beliefs on social media…too many people do not even try to understand where other perspectives are coming from, even if they disagree in the end. Sigh. Lovely post.


  5. Yes these tribal loyalties…I find the more empathy you have the more fiercely loyal you are to that tribe. Listening is hard…especially in this frightening, “selfie, look at me, all about me, see me” world we are all wondering in…most thoughts are in a box, the size of their cellphones. I recently sat in a coffee shop and watched 4 twenty-somethings, not say one word to one another for almost 20 min….all hunched over diligently typing on their cell phones…yes, I timed it…20 minutes. Unreal. No wonder we have problems listening when so few say actual words to one another? On another note, you just popped in my head and I had to say hi…just been thinking of you…hope you are well my friend…xo


  6. Great post. I agree that a lot of the conflict is tribal (us vs them) though for me that begs the question of why and how. What I’ve observed as a member of my segment of post-modern, privileged society is that increasingly people are defining their “tribe” by what they believe, not necessarily by family, culture, religion etc, those things having become a lot more fluid and less definitive of identity, IN THIS particular priveleged segment of society, NOT universally by any means. It usually comes up in very innocuous ways. For example one post natal yoga instructor enthused to us that “this is your tribe!” I thought that was a bit silly at the time but didn’t unpack it. However since then I’m noticing how very pervasive this thinking is. I could go on with examples, but comment is long already. The problem with this line of thinking: when someone challenges your beliefs, it becomes a personal attack on your “tribe” and your very identity. And people don’t respond graciously to an attack on their tribe. I’m pretty sure that accounts for some of the nastiness you describe. Personally, I’m trying to shift my thinking about beliefs away from tribal identity and toward an awareness of those beliefs as external to myself (sorry yoga teacher lol). No belief system or ideology will EVER fully describe reality. We adopt them for the sake of convenience. It’s necessary to have a consistent, defensible world view, but one should have the humility to admit that those views could be wrong and that they should be able to change if reality changes. When you think of it that way, it’s easier to listen somewhat calmly and respectfully to others. We listen out of a sense of common humanity, not to figure out whose “side” the person is on. I love this line from the article above all: “one day I hope she’ll be able to hear my story. But today it was my turn to listen.”


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