Do We Expect Too Much From Our Tribe?
I can recall an episode of “The Daily Show” in which then host Jon Stewart was “reporting” the Trayvon Martin story. He mentioned the shooter’s name, George Zimmerman, and then crossed his fingers on both hands, looked heavenward and mumbled, “Please don’t let him be a Jew, please don’t let him be a Jew.” The joke was about the name Zimmerman, often a Jewish surname, and about the fact that Stewart, a Jewish man, desperately hoped the heinous act wasn’t committed by one of his own. (Zimmerman was not one of Stewart’s own.)
We expect more of people we feel a kinship with — our race, our gender, our religion, etc. It’s as if we somehow feel responsible for how any of “us” behave. Perhaps it’s related to ancient tribalism, where people strongly identified with their tribe. Their whole way of being was based on the group to which they belonged. It was a blueprint for life, instructing people on how to survive, providing them with a belief system and a set of rules to live by. Humans are social animals; they gravitate to other humans. Perhaps tribalism is a way of avoiding total anarchy. I’m not sure, but I know it’s as true as it’s ever been that we expect “our” people to be, basically, better than everybody else. It’s as if we believe that all of us in that tribe are represented by each of us and if any one of us behaves badly, it reflects badly on all of us.
Recently, some members of the LGBT community were annoyed with Caitlin Jenner for some political stands she’s taken and for what they see as her seeking too much publicity in the wrong ways. They think her actions somehow pollute the atmosphere surrounding all transgender people.
I don’t harbor many expectations about members of tribes to which I belong. I had expectations for my family and those were summarily dashed by the despicable decisions my siblings made during the last 30 years. Given that, how would I ever expect any better from other people? I believe we’re all just people, regardless of the “tribes” to which we belong. Ultimately the fewer circles we draw around ourselves and others the better off we’ll all be. Having said that, sometimes the success of a member of a group does lift us all. Politics aside I was proud when America elected its first black leader and, again, politics aside I will be proud when we elect our first female leader. Also, I think it’s progress that the lines of our tribes are blurring as more and more we “mix” and become closer to each other and become part of more tribes than those that once defined us narrowly.
What we need to do is to fight for the rights for all members of every tribe to have the opportunity to reflect well on themselves and others. We have to start viewing ourselves more as the human tribe and recognizing that when one of that tribe rises and succeeds, it can lift us all.