A friend of mine sent me a link to a heart-warming TED presentation yesterday which got me thinking on tribalism and the longing to belong. The talk was given by a talented South African wildlife activist and storyteller named Boyd Varty. Boyd touched on the uniquely African concept called “ubuntu,” which is defined as “I am, because of you” and made a compelling case for living life more compassionately and empathetically.
Human beings are driven by the longing to belong. We organize ourselves in groups of all shapes and sizes, while proudly donning logos and bumper stickers which note our various affiliations. We group ourselves into families, communities, nations, and so on, and these groups are then transformed into a statement of identity, such as: “I am an American,” “I am a Michigan Wolverine,” “I am a musician” or “I am a Christian.”
What we often fail to realize in our obsessive compulsive tribalism is that we are not just human, with human traits, interests and persuasions that can be categorized into different groups. We are much more than that. We are human beings, that is, eternal beings clothed in fleeting human form. Every man, woman and child shares a common heritage in this sense.
We are creators. How did Sting put it? “We are spirits in a material world.” We’re not here to divvy up the earth and all that dwells therein. To do so simply reveals a profound ignorance of our connectedness to one another and to all things. When we forget this basic truth, we’re left with no other option but to fight over the apparently limited resources in the world around us, while padding our bunkers with as many like-minded people as possible.
There is a certain pride and comfort which attends the small groups we form around ourselves and I suppose they are valuable to the degree that they serve as symbols of the larger pattern of connection, but life doesn’t have to be so limited, so broken up into little pieces.
I hope you enjoy Boyd’s talk as much as I did. Here is the link: