The following is the attempt of my conscious mind to see patterns throughout my life that point toward “what I am” at my core, and gain understanding of it to the extent that “knowing myself” may be possible.
The following is the “highest” or “broadest” purpose of my existence, so most of the ways I relate with individuals or groups in some way relate to this largest sense of contribution to a whole of humanity of which I am part.
If there can be any purpose to some of my early experiences of getting hit with a chain or kicked by groups of people…
or some gift that might come from my seeming inability to “see the world through any specific cultural lens” (and accept its limited spectrum) and the resultant pervasive feeling of loneliness and separation I’ve felt my entire life (a feeling that has only lifted in moments of one-on-one intimacy with another human being, or time spent with animals, or seeing the moon between treetops)…
and if both my nature (the physical and mental attributes I was born with – which I did not choose) and my nurture (the environments and experiences of my years of psychosocial development – which I did not choose) have some sort of utility which I may consciously recognize and relate to as a “mission,” it is this:
Help Homo Sapiens Transcend Tribalism
Lots of other people share this purpose and will fulfill it and describe it in their own ways.
Can I really say that I have “chosen” this purpose? Not really. My choice is to allow my “soul” to lead my mind. All I am choosing is to be what I am. And as far as I can tell, what I am is a “Tao-ish seeker of non-denominational interdisciplinary truth,” who became focused on humanity and our ability to connect through compassion.
“Truth,” however, is all that I ever knew I was looking for. That’s why I started reading the encyclopedia when I was very young, and running away from home to the library or musuem even before anyone tried trapping me behind a school desk.
All I was aware of, for most of my life, was that I wanted to understand the truth of “tribalism.” I didn’t use that word. I just looked for the patterns of bias and behavior it describes. I don’t care if we call it “tribalism” or “culturalism,” or use another word from the social sciences – or even from English. I speak English, so I tend to call electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of 625–740 nanometres “red.” The phenomena exists regardless of what anybody calls it. If I spoke Spanish I’d call it “rojo.” This thing I’ll call “tribalism” right now is a universal human phenomena, so we can pick from any of mankind’s 7,200 languages and endless scholarly or religious divisions to describe it.
Really, when I was a kid I wanted to know “What the hell is wrong with you people?” and by “people” I truly meant “all people.” I was hurt, but I started to notice the things that hurt me were not limited to any specific group of people.
In many ways, it feels like “surrender” to fully acknowledge all this consciously. So it comes without a sense of majestic triumph and zeal, as I sense many “missions” might.
Why would anyone choose to “transcend tribalism” when they could be on a boat drinking champagne instead, or even just smoking weed and eating cheese fries?
I never would have chosen that type of mission.
But the one thing that has distracted me from various glittering lifestyles, is “truth.” I’m drawn to it. Helplessly.
Truth on its own, however, is still not enough. There is some “active” component to my philosophies that I cannot escape.
The most I can say that my own conscious understandings have contributed directly to this “mission,” was a realization that my philosophies were… doing something to me.
They made changes to my emotional and experiential well-being.
After a series of traumatic events brought me an (admittedly strange) new form of perspective, one that might be called a “total lack of attachment to my own beliefs,” I wondered: “What good are all those things I was trying to figure out and learn my whole life? What use are the philosophies I’ve come up with? It seems like this Chris Shelby guy has put together a somewhat unique model of mankind’s relationship with reality, and he was quite certain that everything he figured out was true. But everyone who ever lived was pretty sure they knew what was true, and what some people believe makes them act like jerks. So what happens when this particular model/worldview is acted on? Is it good for anything? If tried out and experimented with, what happens next?”
New connections became possible. Almost like some sort of cognitive path had been cleared towards the experience of “compassion.”
I noticed that I had access to feelings of empathy and understanding that I never had before. It used to make me angry when people were wrong. When their ideas were so wrong they were dangerous, my anger made me treat people badly based on their ideas. It frustrated me when other people didn’t make sense, and brought feelings of disgust when other people did not seem to even be trying to make sense. But those feelings went away, diminished, or became manageable for me.
The next thing that occurred to me is that “compassion” is the only thing I’m familiar with that allows people of differing cultures to connect with one another. In my philosophies it is the “self-seeing” of shared humanity in others. It has a long and rich tradition in many forms of spirituality, although unfortunately the stories and traditions of many religions are themselves divisive, often nullifying any world-healing benefit of their practice.
Compassion is, as far as I can tell, the way “group divides” are crossed. If you look closely enough, every group of people has an “in-group morality” that differs from their ideas about how to treat outsiders.
Individuals in street gangs only stick knives in the human beings of other gangs. Nations bomb other nations. It may not be a coincidence that “flying your colors” is vital to nationalism, racism, and gang warfare. Though their mansions may not have a specific flag, it may not be all that different for CEOs of large agribusiness companies who see “the public” as an out-group to be used and abused. These men in suits would never, ever poison their OWN family. Families living outside their mansions, however, aren’t quite as human. Those people can be collateral damage in a war for profit.
It is not, as I see it, a coincidence that my friend was beat up after last week’s Seahawks game. He’s from California, as are his jerseys. They are not blue and green. He walked past the bars near the stadium after the game, and was attacked by a pack of five-fingered animals all jacked up on testosterone and ethanol. Their vicarious tribe had won a symbolic battle minutes before.
Am I saying that “football fans” are violent and tribalistic and unreasonable and immoral towards out-groups? No.
Nor are “patriots” or “conservative shock-talk pundits,” or the uncle who ruins family reunions by yelling about “those people.”
I’m saying that the species Homo Sapiens is violent and tribalistic and and unreasonable and immoral towards out-groups.
Does that mean we’re all capable of “Man’s inhumanity to man” because it’s in our DNA? With billions of renderings of genetic code in every person across the earth, yet each one containing a line that says: “get them before they get you”?
That may seem like a very nasty thing to say about humanity. It might make us sound brutish and hopeless and “broken.”
I do not see it that way.
We’re getting better.
In aggregate, on a worldwide scale, on a loooong timeline – we’re getting “better.” As a species, over millennia, we are becoming kinder and more welcoming. Not as a nation, over decades. But as a whole, over the course of pre-historic speculation and through recorded history, we are becoming better at treating each other well.
We simply have a bump in the long road of history, with Brexit in the UK and immigration in the US, and religions coming apart at the seams.
To progress from the point of evolutionay psychology or cultural evolution we are at now – we need to see the challenges more clearly.
Right now, most people can easily see that “the other group” is tribalistic and biased. But to “get past” this point, in which we can all see so clearly how terrible “those people” are, a significant number of us must see that the species Homo Sapiens is violent and tribalistic and and unreasonable and immoral towards out-groups.
One problem with stating this message clearly, however, is that for the most part – only tribes of psychologists know what I mean by “out-group.” And most people don’t spend their decades looking for patterns of “tribalism” in human affairs. (That’s why I started the Compassion Circle – so everyone who does recognize this pattern and “gets it” can work on translating a message of healing between cultures and lexicons and idiolects so as to free it from any boxes of thought and perspective)
We live in a world that is experiencing more and more divisions between groups. We are rather gifted animals, with our ability for abstraction and symbol – but that also lets us divide ourselves based on politics, religion, money, or any preference. Social media allows everyone to see the beliefs of everyone else. That’s new. And so we are noticing that some of us believe it’s okay to be gay and others don’t.
I’ve heard from representatives of large worldwide religions recently, that their religions are splitting in two. Even religions that have been “together” for some time will be splitting apart. A group of people who have sat on the same pew for years will no longer be “together,” but instead be found in two churches meeting in separate buildings across town. Because one of those buildings will allow you to marry someone with genitals similar to your own, and the other won’t.
Lots of splitting in the world, for a SEEMINGLY maddening variety of reasons. But I don’t see it that way. There’s only one reason for the splits: “Your beliefs are different than mine and our symbols are different colors. So go away before I bite you or take your stuff.”
So it seems to me that my life, and all that thinky-cerebral-activity (that I really have no choice about, either) – all the times that high-school teachers yelled at me for reading textbooks in their class or that people sighed and shook their head when they saw me scribbling in notebooks my whole life – might have something to contribute to a larger whole.
Is this a “choice” or a “mission”? It feels far more accurate to say that my conscious mind has finally learned to step out of the way so that my soul can get things done.
The Facebook Group “The Compassion Circle” is a place where we discuss “how” we can transcend tribalism. We also celebrate compassion-in-action, wherever we can find it in the world.