Tribalism – the Common Cause?

Read a moving example of reconciliation and unity during the week past.  Stuff (the news outlet) has been telling stories from the Christchurch earthquake, ten years ago.  On that day, two men were rebuilding St Paul’s church, which had collapsed in the earthquake of some months before.  As soon as this second one was over they came out to view the devastation, and immediately ran across the road to the CTV building, which had pancaked, to see how they could help.

Their story from that day is compelling reading, but one incident stands out to me.  At one point one of them, a man called Nosa, was working on top of a pile of rubble, tearing rocks of concrete out and hurling them down the slope.  He remembers being terrified standing on the rubble, as the adjacent lift shaft swayed with every aftershock, “and one was hitting every minute”, says the article.

Mr Nosa found himself working alongside a man with a “Nazi tattoo” on the side of his head. “It was an unlikely alliance that remains memorable for Nosa, who is of Pacific Island descent,” the article relates.
“He was a skinhead, and he was right standing next to me pulling people out.  He shook my hand after, so I felt that we put our differences aside [and] just put human lives first.”

Poignant.  And it triggers in me the ubiquity of tribalism.  My tribe is better than yours!
I’ve noticed this in many contexts over the years.  From the wars in Europe to the killing fields of Cambodia to the genocide in Rwanda, to … many other examples great and small.  I even notice it in sports crowds, where we Kiwis lambaste the Aussies (and they us), or where we Chiefs supporters disparage the Crusaders.  There’s something in us that loves to elevate ourselves at the expense of others; that we are the best there is, come anybody. When there is no hard evidence to that effect at all.  Why would I want to die for the Chiefs, just because I live there, against the Crusaders, who are at least my equal in every sphere?  It’s a strange conceit.

A strange conceit, to be sure, and it leads, I think, to criticism, racism, (all the other “isms”), intolerance, arrogance, judgementalism, injustice, conflict and war.  Historians sift through wars, trying to establish causes, even trying to learn from them.  I say, take any agreed cause, divide it like an avocado, and there in the centre will be the hard stone of tribalism.

Nosa and the skinhead showed that tribal differences can be laid aside in common human cause and, just that easily, tribalism can be rendered meaningless.  My tribe is actually no better than yours at all.  Peace, friend.

Ken F

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