I’m getting a little sick and tired of people bashing social media as a hotbed of vacant chatter and a vehicle of shameless self-promotion. What we’re all really looking for, whether you participate in social media or not, is a sense of belonging. Pop psychologists refer to this phenomenon as finding your tribe, and I can think of no better way to find, meet with, and bond with other like-minded individuals than through social media. Noted education specialist, Ted Robinson refers to a tribe as “a group of people who share the same interests and passions. The tribe may be large or small. It can exist virtually, through social media, or in person. Tribes may be highly diverse. They may cross generations and cultures. They may cross time and include people who are no longer living but whose lives and legacy continue to inspire those who are.”
Our ability to find our tribes is critical in that it offers us a sense of validation and can relieve us from the isolation and alienation of modern life. Each of us already belongs to groups ranging from family, culture, and religion, but I wouldn’t label any of these as being my tribe. I define my tribe as a more fluid entity that is less defined by its structure and more aligned with a feeling of shared passion. I would also point out that a tribe does not resemble the cliques that are so prevalent in schools. Being a member of a clique is all about trying to fit in and gaining the admiration of the other clique members. In contrast, your tribe love and support you for who you are, and their is an absence of a power dynamic in the group.
So, how does one go about finding or building a tribe? Tribes are informal and consist of a community of allies who support your passion, fear, or belief about something dear to you. Size also plays a critical role in determining whether or not your tribe will be viable and effective. British anthropologist Robin Dunbar suggested that there is a cognitive limit to the number of people with whom we can develop meaningful and stable social relationships. The outer limit of this size is known as “Dunbar’s number”, and is believed to be 150. Dunbar came to this number by looking at primitive societies in which humans can only maintain stable relationships in groups no larger than 150. When groups grow beyond this limit, there appears to be a need for restrictive rules and laws to maintain order. Another essential component of your tribe should involve the importance of feedback as a means of growth rather than criticism. I like what American writer and entrepreneur Seth Godin says about tribes. “Instead of focusing on arguing with people who say no, it might easier to get near the people who like to say yes.”
That brings me to the tribes in my life and how we nourish and support one another, be it through face-to-face contact, Facebook or Twitter. As a long-distance runner, I spend countless hours alone racking up mile after mile on trails and roads every day. I like to do my training runs at 4:30am, so I rarely have the opportunity to run with friends. My online running tribe fills this void by allowing me to chat with, or simply joke with, other Type-A ultra runners who really “get me”. There is no judgement in this tribe, only mutual support and admiration. I would say some of the people I feel closest to are members of this online tribe. As an added bonus, every once in awhile we get to meet up at races around the globe and hug each other in person!
Five months ago, I disclosed that I was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Part of my healing journey has involved me sharing this with my friends on social media, and more recently, on my blog. The outpouring of support was humbling indeed, and encouragement and admiration I was shown were key to me moving forward in my life. One thing I never expected was that I would become a member of a new tribe. I’m now intricately connected to so many other survivors of childhood trauma who have reached out to me from around the world. Trusting in your tribe, and participating in the members’ highs and lows can be a remarkable opportunity to “get out of your own way” and into a rich and rewarding tribal family.
Wherever you are, and whatever you do, I encourage you to seek out your tribe, and if you’re anything like me, those people who may have a huge impact on your life just might be waiting for you on Facebook or Twitter.