I have always been drawn to stories about small very close knit groups of characters. Stories about crews. People who depend on each other for their lives and livelihoods.
I am so drawn to these stories because they represent the best aspects of people. Crews are thrown together, often by chance. They can consist of very different people with different ideals. Jayne and Simon in Firefly. Zoro and Sanji in One Piece, Quil and Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy. Despite being so different, these people work together. Through their shared turmoil, they see the most vulnerable sides of each other, and accept each other. A crew is about giving the best aspects of one’s self to support the group as a whole. That is humanity at its best. People coming together despite their differences, to live the best lives possible.
This crew mentality is what I strive for in real life. I have called it ‘looking for my tribe’. All my life I have sought out my tribe. I think everyone does. Trying to find a place they belong. This striving is what drives children to form cliques, or teenagers to join gangs. Being able to identify one’s self with a tribe is an important psychological necessity. It helps root us, gives us a place to fall back to when we forget who we are. If we forget, we have our tribe to remind us, and give purpose to our lives. We live to support the tribe. Our purpose is the tribe. Friendships and relationships may make us feel not alone, but a tribe makes us feel like we belong.
The Tribe and Ritual
A tribe is a necessity. In history and in mythology, the tribe is what gives meaning and structure to your life. Participating in the rituals of a tribe is how you know you belong. The rituals help to mark important milestones in your life and your participation in the tribe. One may think that our society has evolved to the point that we don’t need these rituals anymore. But that is wrong.
Think of the new girlfriend or new boyfriend being invited to holiday dinner with the parents. The holiday dinner is a ritual of a family’s tribe. Bringing a new boyfriend or girlfriend to this ritual is symbolic of an initiation ritual. If they pass the trials, they will be initiated, welcomed into the family tribe. Or imagine if you are friends with some people who hang out every Friday evening. Then one day, they don’t invite you. You have been shunned, denied the right to participate in the rituals of the tribe. Think of the Bat Mitzvah, a religious celebration, a ritual that welcomes boys into the realm of manhood. It is a ritual of the tribe of Judaism. By participating in that ritual, a boy is recognized by all members of that tribe as now a man. He knows exactly where he stands in the eyes of his religious tribe.
We do these rituals not only for the intrinsic value of the action. We do them because our actions become marks in time. Funerals, weddings, birthdays. These are specific moments that we can look back on and remember that was when things changed. That was when you had to start thinking differently about something. Rituals are markers in time that help us remember our emotions, help us to remember the people we were, and differentiate us from the people we became. They are also markers that help us to move on after an event. The help us to know when to start changing the way we think about something. They let us know when something is done, and when something new has begun.
Finding ‘Our Place’ in the Modern World
Finding our tribes in the modern age can be very difficult. We do not spend our days with the same people. Our families are different from our coworkers, our schoolmates, our neighbors, our sports teams, our book clubs. There are so many categories, it is difficult for a person to tell where it is that they ‘belong’ when the concept of a tribe is so amorphous in our modern lives. I think this is also why a lot of tribal mythology is no longer applicable to our lives. Our application of ‘tribes’ has changed dramatically since those rituals were established.
Tribal mythology is based on the people in your life always being the same. Your family is the people you work with is the people you sleep next to. In a tribe, you always know where you stand in relation to every other person. In our modern society one person may have one standing in one tribe, but a completely different standing in another tribe. With such ambiguity, it is difficult to know your ‘place’, where you stand.
In a tribe, you know that everyone in your tribe is the ‘in-group’, and everyone not in the tribe is the ‘out-group’. You know how to behave towards people in the in-group versus people in the out-group. Again, modern society fudges this dichotomy. One person can be part of the in-group of one of our tribes, but in the out-group of another of our tribes. How can a person have a sense of ‘belonging’ if they are in such an ambiguous state being in or being out of a group? How can you know if or where you belong if the in-group and out-group are not defined?
The Modern Tribe
I think that it is this very ambiguity that makes it so important in the modern mythology to have stories with the ‘crew mentality’. I love these stories because of how important they are to life. They are especially important to modern society precisely because modern society has lost the ‘ritual’, and the sense of the ‘tribe’. Young people do not grow up with these guide lines, they do not grow up with a sense of having a ‘place’ within the world. So the only thing we have to go by to learn the lessons of the ‘tribe’ is from these stories. I’ve learned from these stories how to get along with difficult co-workers. They have taught me how to contribute better in my friendships and relationships. But most of all, they give me a sense of how to belong in a modern world.