Do I need to paint stripes on my face? - the Dangers of Cultural Tribalism

During my freshman year in college, I took Psychology 101. My textbook had a description of "tribalism" which essentially boiled down to this:

  1. People like to feel a part of a group
  2. If you put two groups together they will start to work in opposition to each other
  3. People in a group have a tendency to assume:
    • the best of their group-mates 
    • the worst of the other group

That description in my textbook forever changed my impression of how people work together, identify themselves, and how competition can get ugly. I saw that often group disagreements weren't really about principles and perspectives. It was about tribes:, the Hatfields versus McCoys, Harvard versus YaleLakers versus Clippers

Up until a few years, it felt like politicians, regardless of political affiliation, were all of the same group. You might call yourself a Democrat or a Republican, but you were really a Senator or a Congressperson. You had your own pastimes and activities. There were the "constituents" and then there were the "political leaders". A politician could work with either party because her "group" really was all the other politicians she saw every day.

However, that inclusivity seems to be gone. A few days ago, Roy Moore, Republican candidate for Senator in Alabama, was accused of inappropriate behavior with a minor and several other teenage women years ago. There was a time when even a whiff of this type of scandal would doom a candidate in either party.  Roy Moore instead claimed it was story spurred on by Democrats and "fake media" and decided to fundraise off of it. And for a certain amount of his supporters, that was preferable to the thought that he did target underage girls while district attorney.  

Now we are all Democrats and Republicans, red and blue, Bernie-lovers or Trumpists and we suddenly can't seem to think beyond the confines of our tribe. We grow increasingly foolhardy in our ability to get perspective on any one situation. Is Donald Trump hateful and narcissistic? Or is he an outsider who thought to break the mold of a stagnant Washington? Is Roy Moore a pedophile or an evangelical Christian with old-style beliefs about marriageBoth? If you identify with Roy Moore, can you get perspective on his actions? Is it even possible to be objective? Can we fight knee-jerk responses when our beliefs or "tribe" is threatened?

Yes, I think it is and I think you can. Tribalism is rampant in our country, but there are people who are looking to bridge those gaps. Tribalism thrives in petty fights, inflammatory remarks and unsubstantiated rumors. Though they have a long way to go, There has been a concerted effort by social media to combat fake news that helps divide us, a strong push to encourage editorial standards for all media outlets to allow people to see beyond their respective media bubbles. Additionally, I am heartened by those that work to just talk with those that don't identify with their own group, to hear their thoughts and feelings.  If anything, be kind even if you disagree. We are all people, and ultimately our tribe includes all of us.