Redefining "Tribe"


Just the other day I posted something on Instagram mentioning that I would be sharing more of my travel adventures with this incredible tribe. A few minutes later, I received a message from a woman who has attended some of my classes in Washington, asking if I really wanted to use that particular word. 

It was a perfectly kind and heartfelt inquiry: Had I been cognizant of any cultural appropriation? Did I identify with an indigenous tribe that she didn't know about? And would I be willing to explain? 

Yes. Yes, I would.

Right then and there I made a choice to not get offended by her ask. We can be so easily offended by others - sometimes when they are actually looking to hurt our feelings - but other times (as in this case) when they are merely curious, and trying to be helpful. I have been strengthening my nervous system to sail through both kinds with a bit more grace and elegance and I was excited to test that strength. 

So I sat for a few moments and calmly reflected on my experience and understanding of the word "tribe."

My father, the oldest son of five, was born in Iran and brought his family over to America in the late 60's for greater opportunity, assimilation, and safety. Ethnic groups of all kinds (and certainly in the Middle East) have nomadic and thus, tribal roots that go back for centuries. This journey of family (and soon extended family’s) migration was certainly no different. And layer on the fact that my Dad's side of the family is Jewish, and we have an additional heritage link to the twelve tribes of Israel. 

In high school many of my friends referred to my family as the "Ahdoot Tribe." Which felt natural given the tribal qualities of such a family group that had supported one another in bonds that feel far deeper than community, through many tough transitions. It also perhaps explained why I felt a little different – feeling deeply responsible to attend every single Persian family gathering, and comparing myself with curiosity (and sometimes self-deprecation) to many of the blond-haired, blue-eyed, and button-nosed friends I grew up with.

The woman of the original inquiry, who comes from (in her words),  "a family that is as white as they come," had recognized the inherent generational privilege that provides, and was hoping to be sensitive to other perspectives and cultures, being unfamiliar with my own.

And that heightened sensitivity of white people, is not a bad thing. A little extra caution, a little more putting of one's perspective into others’ can speak volumes of compassion and help many that have never even given things like this a second thought. 

And though I don't identify as white per se, I pondered how we may, as an American culture, be able to redefine the word "tribe" in a conscious way to link us to a depth of community of choice outside our family of origin.

Merriam-Webster's second definition of the word "tribe" is actually: "a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest." 

And while I can't speak to the cultural sensitivity of Merriam or Webster, I can say that through the code of language, the definition is evolving. It made me think of people - like this woman - who don't have African or Middle Eastern descent in their blood to speak of, but may still be hungering for a connection to a group of commonality. 

A community is an important step in that part of belonging for sure, but a tribe, a tribe of connection with other chosen sisters or brothers - roots deeper. In the recent (and I think, amazing) work of Blue Zones we're learning that in Okinawa certain social support groups (or"Moais") are formed in childhood and extend to end of life. Researchers have found this connective construct has been a major boon to longevity and happiness of the people of this little island.

Couldn't we call that support (which is emotional, financial, familial, and beyond…), a tribe? 

Moreover, in my own empirical observation of wellness leaders of African, Middle Eastern, and Asian descent, many are using the word "tribe" as I did. A choice that is inclusive to all colors and cultures and speaks much more towards the interest and character of the MW definition, than anything else. 

My point here is this: the last thing I want to do is to be offensive or insensitive, but people everywhere are hungering to belong. To be for something. Especially in the digital world, it can make a powerful difference to feel bonded to a group that has similar values and offers inspiration and care - even through a smart phone traversing across states or countries. I certainly feel this way about my Kundalini friends, teachers, and connections I’ve formed across the past few years of study.

At the end of the day, we are all part of the same tribe - the human tribe. Irrespective of religion, culture, color, background, gender, or sexual orientation, we are here to save a planet. And when we start to feel those bonds of humanity on a more global scale, we consciously choose to build cross-cultural unity. 

And whether you're comfortable using the word or not, know that the doors of this tribe of wanderers on a quest for greater wellness, purpose, self-celebration and elevation of consciousness - are always, always open.