There are moments in life when deep truths come with startling clarity. I remember the first time I realized that I needed a “tribe”, a group of friends who would be there for me through the proverbial thick and thin, a support system where we shared some fundamental similarities and could “do life” together. Yes, I was watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the time and the tribe I identified with was The Island of Misfit Toys, but that’s another article for another day; the point for now is the art of community as an essential part of social wellness.
And make no mistake about it, finding and/or creating a community is an art.
Most people grow up with the built-in communities of family or school. If you’re fortunate, those communities were nurturing and supportive; if not, perhaps you learned what you don’t want in a tribe. As an adult, thankfully, you’re free to make your own decisions about what you desire in friendship and community: so, from one (sort-of) grownup to another, here are my tips for finding and creating a tribe.
1. You need a tribe
This may seem redundant in an article called “Find Your Tribe”, but let’s be real: some of us are less than enthusiastic about putting ourselves out there. Humans are built for relationship spiritually, physically, and emotionally, but painful experiences, rejection, and trauma can sometimes cause us to disparage or fear our need for others. This is where growth in EQ (Emotional Intelligence) can help: self-knowledge, a thorough examination of your own triggers, some healthy boundary-setting, and developing realistic expectations can better prepare you for a productive and pleasant community experience. But it all starts with singing that old song, “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world…” and admitting to yourself that Barbra Streisand might just have a point.
2. Interests or Values?
A good tribe shares your interests, but a great tribe shares your values. A reader may seek
out a book club, an athlete can join a soccer team, a paranormal fanatic can join a ghost hunting team—there’s no end to the types of special interest clubs one can seek out for like-minded folks and a satisfying dose of community. But there is no greater sense of satisfaction than to find “your people”, those who share a deep conviction about core beliefs. Ask yourself what you’re truly passionate about—faith, politics, activism, wellness, serving those less fortunate—and seek out those opportunities. One of my favorite “tribes” is the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee at my church; we are an unusual collection of wildly different people, but have a singularly profound sense of community because our passions and core beliefs align.
3. An individual in a group of individuals
When our emotional boundaries are iffy, we tend to “melt” into a group and lose our sense
of self. I cannot stress this enough: a tribe is not there to meet your every emotional need and agree with everything you think. A healthy community will listen, support, and validate, but also question, challenge, and contrast. There should be conflict and the employment of critical thinking skills and uncomfortable conversations. A good tribe will help you to grow as a human being and become more of an individual, not less. We all know of groups that develop “hive mind”, which is defined as “a group mentality characterized by uncritical conformity and a loss of individuality and personal responsibility”. If this is too technical a definition, just recall your mother saying, “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?” and you’ll get the picture. (Thanks, Mom).
To sum up: yeah, you need a tribe, but you need a good tribe and the only way to find that is to know yourself first and decide what you really want and need from a community. I’m happy to have moved on from my wish to live on the Island of Misfit Toys, but that desire taught me that I really wanted to do life with some like-minded and like-hearted folks—and you should, too. So, go forth and find your people, people.
About the Contributor:
Shari Simpson is not a therapist, but she has played one on TV. An actress and screenwriter, she wrote the screenplay for Sweet, Sweet Summertime, co-wrote the Disney Channel Original Movie THE SWAP, and is the author of the middle grade novel Sam Saves the Night and upcoming chapter book series, Sugar Rush Racers. Shari has trained in Restorative Practices with the Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute and is the co-chair of the Social, Cultural, Unity and Diversity team at the Garden State Church. She is also a perpetually exhausted mother of two creative teenagers and one divine pug.