For some time now, I’ve suspected the need to categorize people into Us and Them is something that’s deeply ingrained in human nature. When you think about it, survival pressure has probably selected for those of us who have the ability to organize ourselves in communities, since those who live in groups have increased survival rates. But the flip side of this benefit is the tendency to see everyone that is not Us as Them. It’s as though we’re constantly playing a game of “What’s Wrong with This Picture?” only the consequences of saying “You don’t belong” has gone far beyond kids sorting themselves into Jocks and Nerds. That process itself is not innocuous either: there are real consequences to bullying and being ostracized. But that’s just one end of a spectrum that includes racism, homophobia, misogyny, sports team rivalry, and more.
In the past, not being part of a tribe could get you killed–but the process of sorting you into a tribe can be an anxious one. I think J.K. Rowling got it right when she depicted the competition and tension between Houses at Hogwarts, and the concern Harry had about being sorted into the ‘right’ house.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the rhetoric I heard on the television and radio was all Us against Them. So much so, I stopped listening to commercial radio altogether. I have to rely on friends (and YouTube) to introduce me to new music and artists because I simply couldn’t bear to hear what was coming out of the announcers’ mouths. For the most part, I stopped watching the news as well. I still have a fairly low tolerance for both, and mostly listen to my iPod.
Fast forward 15 years: this election has been one of the most polarizing Presidential races I can recall. People are drawing lines in the sand and standing by their candidate no matter what. In fact, at a recent gathering of friends this past weekend, we had to declare a ‘no politics’ rule. Not because I don’t think we could have discussed the current race without coming to blows, but mostly because we’re all so sick of it and we were there to get away for a few days. But the subject of Us against Them came up, and it struck me that this mindset was so deeply rooted in all of us that probably the ONLY thing that would unite us as one people on this planet would be the threat of an alien invasion or the threat of another pandemic–which is a nightmare for another day.
Sometimes, in my fear of the hatred and hostility I see out there, I forget the value of having tribes. The importance of finding *your* tribe, the place where the people get you. The people with whom you can be your real self.
I had that experience this past week. Once a year, I get together with some friends for what we call “Squee Weekend.” We come from all over the world to laugh, talk, watch movies, drink wine, eat food, and share what we love and the things we are passionate about. Over the years, the group has grown in size and expanded from a long weekend to a full week. We joked about how the name would soon become Squee Fortnight, and then Squee Month, only to grow into Squee Season, and so on.
Most of us are writers. Some of us knit. Others do crafts. Others are whiz bangs at computer tech. It’s rare that I come home without having learned something about a new-to-me social media platform, or how to podfic, or discover a fantastic story because someone shared it with the group.
The best part is that because the group is so organic, we can gather in the main conference room to discuss topics of interest (such as some of the things I learned at Writer’s Police Academy this year) or we can subdivide into smaller groups to watch a television show or brainstorm with someone about the story we’re working on. The person on my left could be filling in the pages of a coloring book while listening to the discussion on the degree to which sex is necessary to romance stories, while the person on the right might be pulling up a link to an editing website they wanted to share. Someone might be upstairs baking brownies to bring down later, while another group might be sitting around the fire discussing stories they wish someone would write. One of my friends is a talented crafter, and every year she helps me create decorated bookmarks to give away at conventions. Another is into journals, another into jewelry-making, and so on. I can sit with someone and learn how about their passions while having meaty conversations about the art of storytelling.
A few years ago, a bunch of us were sitting together, clicketedy-clacking away on our laptops, when one of the Squee Members looked up and said, “Ah. The sound of my people.”
That is not to say that there is never any friction between the members of your tribe. You put a bunch of writers in a room together and they are torn between socializing with people who understand the writing process and the frequent need to go some place quiet and decompress for a while. And though we are all walking the fine line between being introverts and extroverts (because anyone who shares their art is an extrovert to some extent), we have strong opinions and tend to bridle easily on certain subjects.
That said, when push comes to shove, we still recognize our tribe when we see it. It’s like that Firefly episode, Safe, when the villagers wanted to burn River at the stake for being a witch. You cheer when Mal demands her release, saying, “Yeah, but she’s our witch.”
I can’t think of many people with whom I could announce I’m going outside to take pictures of action figures, only to have someone say, “Let me get my camera and join you.” Maybe it’s a little weird for a middle aged woman to be rolling up her jeans so she can wade in the pool while re-enacting a scene from a television show. My particular brand of weird isn’t everyone’s brand, either. But a tribe mate merely nods and tells you when the brownies will be out of the oven.
The only bad thing about Squee Weekend is the depression that comes when it’s over for the year. The link between us is elastic, however, and stretches across time and space as we make our way home, only to pull us back again the following year. Because, yeah. Our tribe.