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Needed: A Reformation for Our Tribes

The ability to see the good in others and the bad in ourselves is perfect vision. John Wooden

Maybe you have noticed how the mighty – and their prominent tribes – have fallen. Linked by shared social interests, these leaders and their tribes have many names, forms and recent crackups. Tribe Hollywood as the cultural elite’s royalty, assumed the pose as society’s secular pope preaching economic and gender equality, has been deposed. It turns out that Harvey Weinstein was not just a person (noun) but a too common sexually abusive leadership behavior (verb Weinsteined).

Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly of tribe Fox, icons to many conservative Christians, have spent tens of millions of dollars silencing their sexual assault/harassment victims. Meanwhile, pastors like Dallas’ Robert Jeffress drop all hints of condemning sexual immorality in supporting President Trump – who has the gall to call-out Senator Al Franken.

Tribe Hillary, a long-standing champion of feminists, advanced to black-belt in victim-blaming and shaming Bill’s sexual targets. Those condemning religion for its hyper-judgment often joined tribes that serve up their own religious fervor in judging those they consider sinners on the wrong-side of political correctness, immigration and climate change. Former freedom of speech champions now engage in aggressive and violent tribal tactics to silence adversaries on college campuses.

Conservatives predicting budget-deficit Armageddon have gone silent in light of big tax cuts that likely grow our deficit, while Democrats who never met a deficit they did not support, become deficit condemners . And, Washington D.C., the capital of telling others what to do, turns out to be the global center of doing it all wrong themselves. Life truly does make hypocrites of us – and our tribes.

Tribalism is also infecting business. Tech companies like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google and Uber are seeing their brands erode right before their eyes, declining from being viewed as really cool, progressive workplaces with innovative products to being monopolistic conduits for election manipulation, pornography, and sex trafficking with toxic work environments, aided by inordinate political influence and government subsidies. What was holier-than-thou has morphed into unholier-than-most – large, powerful tribes run amok.

When Tribes Act Like Gangs

In today’s world it seems we have tied more of our identity and emotional self-worth to our tribal relationships. Mary Eberstadt argues our growing and sometimes unhealthy emotional attachment to tribal groups is a Primal Scream in response to the loss of identity that we used to get from family and community relationships that are now in decline. Certainly, the allure of gangs for father-absent boys reinforces that notion. Regardless, there is no arguing that social media greatly increases our ability to wound each other in the ensuing tribal combat.

As we have invested more of our identity into our tribes, our tribes have too often devolved into self-serving agents of hypocrisy with destructive tendencies. Gaggles become groups, groups become teams, teams become tribes – and tribes and their leaders intoxicated by power and success grow blind, insular, self-protective and destructive. Tribes, this most valuable source for sanctuary, protection and our elusive need to belong – risk becoming destroyers of the very glue that holds our society together.

If politics is the new religion, it seems to be a carrier of the same sins of the old religion. Becoming more tribal in today’s hyper-social media environment often means becoming anti-relational – and acting more like gangs.

Relational Reform: Three Keys for Your Tribe

Many critics point out that attacks by ISIS and other radical Islamic groups are evidence of their need for religious reform. On the 500-year anniversary of the Christian Reformation, it is a good time to ask: What is our own tribe’s capacity for relational reform – to avoid going off the deep end? Relational Reform is the ability of groups to change, respond and govern in a way that avoids relational abuse and corruption. Whether your tribe is your work group, political affiliation, religious group, club, family, or neighborhood – can it reform to avoid relationally destructive behavior?

Tribal reform is complicated and excruciatingly demanding. The big truths come wrapped in paradox that must be weighed and balanced. Let me propose intentional examination of three areas that provide rich potential for reforming your tribes:

  1. Pride that animates balanced with humility that invites self-evaluation and change: Pride in who we are, our purpose and our history is a source of esprit de corps and energy that reinforce aspiration, high standards and our sense of belonging. Think the Marines. However, with this pride we need humility that sees and admits faults, excesses and need for reform. Confession is not just some antiquated practice, it is the cornerstone to continuous improvement. Pride and humility are dance partners that keep us going, improving and changing. Only seeing the bad in others but not in ourselves eventually kills the dance. In your tribe where is pride/humility out-of-proportion, blocking needed reform?

  1. Accountability that brings discipline balanced with grace that forgives and liberates. Accountability and grace are most meaningfully viewed not as two different things – but as two-sides of the same thing – dealing with our imperfections. Accountability faces imperfections by embracing discipline that enables correction and improvement. Grace wipes the slate clean to start over – removing the emotional baggage that drains energy and effort.

Accountability is a strength of high-functioning groups. Too often powerful leaders are tempted to avoid personal or tribal accountability to others, purpose, values and results. Separation – by isolating or rising above – diminishes accountability. However, accountability is only harsh judgment if it comes without grace that acknowledges imperfections, loves and offers second chances – giving permission to try, fail, learn and grow. In your tribe where is accountability/grace out of whack and an obstacle to needed reform?

  1. Power that brings energy and control balanced with empowerment that unleashes and frees others. Power brings energy to get things done and glue to keeps us organized and together. But centralized, controlling power can inhibit energy and innovation. The key to scalability is to enable and empower others in a way that grows the power supply and brings new ideas. Un-enabled and out-of-control empowerment lead to chaos and unnecessary failure. In your tribe, where is controlling power/uncontrolled empowerment inhibiting reform?

There is nothing more crucial than our ability to see and address the bad in ourselves and in our tribes. As reformers say: reformed and always reforming.

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