Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging – Sebastian Junger

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“The United States is so powerful that the only country of capable of destroying her might be the United States herself, which means the that ultimate terrorist strategy would be to just leave the county alone. … Reviling people you share a combat post with is an incredibly stupid thing to do, and public figures who imagine their nation isn’t, potentially, one huge combat outpost are deluding themselves.”

Sebastian Junger – Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

I first heard about Sebastian Junger and his book Tribe a few years back while listening to Joe Rogan, and it’s been on my wish list ever since.

The book focuses on the importance of communities and shared purpose for emotional happiness, then how society’s closed and safe nature is causing people to feel disconnected and alone, leading to higher levels of alcoholism, anxiety, and depression.

The need for a shared struggle and purpose

The fundamental premise of the Tribe is that an intrinsic part of our being is the desire to feel connected to groups, to feel like we are contributing to that group, and a part of a larger cause.

What I found particularly fascinating was how the shared suffering of natural disasters and war typically brings communities together, improving morale, improving mental health, and drastically reducing interpersonal conflict.

For instance, looking back to World War 2, he talks about how during the bombing of London, admissions to psychiatric hospitals went down, long-standing psychiatric patients saw their symptoms subside, and even epileptics reported fewer seizures.

Across the channel, a similar phenomenon was playing out. The hardest-hit cities, like Dresden, which lost more people in one night than Britain did during the entire war, were the ones with the highest morale, and those cities that were completely untouched had the lowest.

According to Sebastian,

“Modern society has gravely disrupted the social bonds that have always characterized the human experience, and that disasters thrust people back into a more ancient, organic way of relating. Disasters, he proposed, create a “community of suffers” that allows individuals to experience an immensely reassuring connection to others.”

Sebastian Junger – Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

The impact of losing connectedness on soldiers

“Whatever the technological advances of modern society—and they’re nearly miraculous—the individualized lifestyles that those technologies spawn seem to be deeply brutalizing to the human spirit.”

Sebastian Junger – Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

In an article for NPR, Sebastian talks about how although only 10% of the US military is engaged in any conflict at all, almost half come home feeling profoundly alienated and out of place. 

For all its evils, combat has an incredibly powerful effect on soldiers.  For many, it may have been the single most important thing in their life, where they knew their role, why they were there, and where they felt like a valuable member of a much larger group.

Be it race, age, gender, none of it mattered. 

What mattered was the group and the shared purpose.

Then you get home to a society where most people are disconnected, cut-off from their wider communities, and selfishness trumps the group’s good.

How do we fix it?

We live in a world that is growing increasingly polarized. No matter what your views are, it even seems that we are being coached by our news, our politicians, and social media to demonize those who don’t share our opinions, leading to so many of the social ills we see today.

I couldn’t agree with Sebastian more when he says,

“If you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the places where you’re different – you underscore your shared humanity.”

Sebastian Junger – Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

I don’t know what the solution is or how we get there.  I hope that one day we find ourselves in a place where we understand that everyone comes from different life experiences and has experienced different shared realities from us.  That although we do not always agree with them, they are more like us than they’re not and that by hearing them out and showing empathy, we can truly achieve something great.

Final Thoughts

It’s interesting that no matter where I turn these days the messaging is the same, as humans, to be our best, and happiest, we need to be part of something bigger, to know how we are contributing to that goal, and believe in the message.

For instance, in a recent post, about the Fundamentals of Leadership I talk about how the very definition of leadership the social influence, that maximizes sustained effort, towards a shared goal.

Or, how Simon Sinek, in his book Start With Why, which I’ll be reviewing shortly, talks about how the best companies in this world, have a clear vision for why they exist, and that vision permeates across all they do, allowing them to move beyond competing on price and product, and instead, competing on vision.

Lastly, how Employee Engagement, one of the core metrics that can be used to determine the success and productivity of a company, is in large part driven by having contributed to, and understanding how they are truly contributing to, meaningful work.

Thanks for reading,

Cory

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