In his 2008 book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, author and entrepreneur Seth Godin popularized the idea of informal tribes in society, consisting of “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” A shared interest and a mode of communication are necessary to enable a tribe, and thanks to the power of the Internet, both are made especially easy.
Modern-day tribes can bring people together over shared interests, organize for positive change, and create networks that cut across distances. With the right leaders at the helm, they can do wonderful things.
However, tribes also can generate insularity and hostility toward outsiders. Tom Jacobs, writing for Pacific Standard magazine, observes that “tribalism — accompanied by active hatred for perceived outsiders — [is] emerging as a driving force everywhere from Middle Eastern battlefields to the halls of Congress.”
So it follows, do tribe members necessarily engage in tribalism? Well, it depends, suggests Jacobs. He cites research indicating that those who believe in the tribe’s purpose, but who also possess a strong ethical code that accords to all people a degree of “moral regard,” are less likely to behave in tribalistic ways.
These lines of research may hold much insight into how our society has become so fractured in terms of politics, ideology, and social mores. They also shed light on employee relations, both within and between common groupings, such as executives, mid-level management, staff, and labor. And when we toss into the mix a healthy understanding of the role of leadership in shaping organizational behavior (and individual conduct within), then a lot of light bulbs may start to flip on.
In addition, this discussion returns us to notions of human dignity. In a world where conflict, difference, and disagreement are inevitable, and where people will naturally bond into tribes based on common interests and beliefs, how can we create a society that provides everyone with a baseline of dignity?