Skip to main content

TBT: The Freedom in Tribal Connection

Way back in the day, I dropped out of grad school. I was doing well academically but not, let's say, spiritually. I asked several people in my chosen field what we could do about catastrophic injustices in the systems we were becoming experts in, and I received the same answer several times: "Uh, you could call your senator."

I was smart enough to know I didn't need a master's degree to do that, so I quit school and began my career working for social justice-seeking nonprofits. For six years, I worked for a statewide activist organization that sent me on some long trips to reach out and connect with people across county and state borders to work toward common goals. One summer, my boss and I took a road trip from the "palm" area of Michigan's lower "mitten" all the way up to the tippy-top of the beautiful Keweenaw Peninsula. We went into mostly rural areas and met with local church leaders and people of faith in humanity, and we gathered signatures on a petition for universal health care. It was a remarkably successful and beautiful journey, and later we celebrated the passage of the Affordable Care Act. It wasn't everything we had wanted, but it was something, and it transformed (and saved) the lives of many Americans.

Meanwhile, we made all kinds of connections on a personal level with people who live very far apart. We stayed in volunteers' homes, ate at their tables, and had deep conversations in their living rooms. We met lots of people who don't fit the stereotypes of "city" or "country," people who were beautiful and fascinating in many ways both expected and unexpected. One of our hosts split her time between the Keweenaw and Kerala, India, a small but mighty little society that has stood out recently as a shining example of community care during a pandemic.

Sometime after I returned, I wrote the post below about the paradoxical freedom that exists within a tight tribal connection--a supportive community that gives people the confidence and the safety to live fully and without fear or unnecessary struggle. I tied in some references to the song "Tribal Connection" by Gogol Bordello, which now strikes a weird chord in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The song was written in 2007 and had nothing to do with pandemic, but listening to it now sounds like a timely expression of frustration that we cannot go out in public spaces and party together.
Where there's a music should be comin' out of every car
There is a silence all over downtown
Where community celebrations should be aroused
I walk the sterile gardens, life is on empty, life is on pause

No can do this, no can do that
What the hell can you do, my friend?
In this place that you call your town
It bears repeating: This is in no way an active rebellion against community-supporting actions to avoid unnecessary tragedy in a plague. Gogol Bordello has canceled their spring 2020 tour dates until it is safe to have concerts again.

The song, written in the Before Times about social restrictions having nothing to do with pandemic, offers an artistic prescription for getting through a tough time of isolation (likely derived from band members' experiences and family histories in repressive Eastern European regimes):
We gonna turn frustration into inspiration
Whatever demons are there, we gonna set them free
Such is the method of tribal connection
Of our fun loving restless breed

Loving our freedoms and our communities and our nation requires that we think about how our actions affect other people. It requires figuring out, together, how to create communal health protections so that individuals can live freely. It's tough when we can't hit the road and occupy the same physical spaces, but we can take time in this moment to remember how it was: rich, humbling, complex, deeply interconnected, and never as simple as politics and stereotypes would have you believe.

The Freedom in Tribal Connection


I want to walk this earth like it is mine!


So say Gogol Bordello in their song "Tribal Connection." It may seem counter-intuitive to us individualist Americans, but to be truly free, independent, empowered, healthy, and happy, we need a supportive community. Human beings are social creatures. The latest research on happiness even suggests that our friendships are far more integral to our well being than our marriages or family relationships. Each one of us needs the support of a loving community, a tribe of our own choosing.

I just returned from an amazing community organizing trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For anyone who hasn't been there, the UP mainly consists of vast, majestic forests with small villages nestled in the woods and along the rocky coastal hills. Many of the "Yoopers" are descendants of Finnish farmers and miners. Tourism is a major industry today, though my journey from Escanaba to Marquette to Houghton was unlike any other tourist experience I have had.

Small towns are sometimes stereotyped as being backwards and wary of outsiders. But at the roadside diners and homes along my way, I found an incredible sense of welcome, hospitality, openness, and friendliness that I am not used to experiencing in Lansing. At the sight of a tanned face (obviously not a local) or a confused expression, someone was always ready to jump out of their seat to ask visitors where they came from and offer spontaneous travel advice and bits of UP trivia. You can't go anywhere without someone enthusiastically explaining to you the history of the pasty (a local dietary staple made from beef and vegetables cooked in a pastry), the surrounding architecture or agriculture, the old railway systems, or the significance of the bear in Finnish folklore.

One point of pride is that in Finland, there is a national health care system that takes care of its citizenry far better than ours in America. Working for national health care is not altruistic; we all benefit from a healthier society that wastes less money and supports its children, elderly, and everyone in between as a precious human commodity.

From my brief observations over the weekend, the Yoopers seem to be very interested in each other's personal business. They unabashedly talked about people who were in the room, speculated about their relationships, and offered loud opinions. There were many questions about who people were, what they believed, where they came from, what they liked, and whether they needed anything. But instead of feeling nosy, the mood was one of genuine interest and support, like a close family. There was intense pride in taking care of each other, listening, sharing, and making sure everyone felt comfortable and valued.


The last home that I stayed in was the energy-star show house of a retired professor in Hancock on the Keweenaw Peninsula, which extends north into Lake Superior. Dr. Merle Kindred gave me and my supervisor a tour of her beautiful, energy-efficient, built-from-local-materials home in the forest and told us stories of her travels to India over cups of masala tea.

She told us about Kerala, India, a poor but FABULOUS state where she recently had a house built. Communism is strong in Kerala's politics, and it is a welfare state. There are many, many poor people who live there, as there are all over India. The state is run by small tribal governments with 1/3 of council seats reserved for women. Though Kerala has little money or urban development, the standard of living there is very high. I pulled this inforomation from Kerala's Wikipedia page:

"Kerala's human development indices— primary level education, health care and elimination of poverty—are among the best in India. According to a 2005-2006 national survey, Kerala has one of the highest literacy rates (89.9%) among Indian states[1] and life expectancy (73 years) was among the highest in India in 2001.[91] Kerala's rural poverty rate fell from 69% (1970–1971) to 19% (1993–1994); the overall (urban and rural) rate fell 36% between the 1970s and 1980s.[92] By 1999–2000, the rural and urban poverty rates dropped to 10.0% and 9.6% respectively.[93] These changes stem largely from efforts begun in the late 19th century by the kingdoms of Cochin and Travancore to boost social welfare.[94][95] This focus was maintained by Kerala's post-independence government.[32][52]:48"

Where there is a culture of pride in caring for one another, there is freedom, health, happiness, and fulfillment--even without material riches. There is a different kind of wealth, a value in human life that cannot be bought or sold. There is a respect for humanity and a communal spirit that we all need to thrive, especially in hard times.

Our nation has a lot of fear attached to words like "communism" and "socialism." My business in the UP was to help organize people to support universal health care so that we can join the other developed nations (and many of those we call "developing") in a high quality of life for our citizens. Obama's plan for health care for all Americans is not a socialist plan. Our Veterans Administration and our military is socialist; that is to say, doctors and other profesisonals are paid and supervised by the government. Around 80% of the taxes we pay go to fund the military, so... it appears that our government is already pretty darn socialist, if you look at the economics of war. But under a national health care plan, the government would pay for care delivered in the private sector. Personally, I don't see why people are so afraid of "socialized" anything, because socialized nations tend to be wealthier, healthier, and happier than we are in America. But... we have never been a people who care to look up the definitions of scary words.

In any case, we need supportive community on a smaller scale, too, especially if we are struggling. Many Americans are making tribal connections, for better or worse. Some groups define themselves by who they exclude--racist hate groups, nationalist groups, etc. spend their energy battling a perceived enemy and keeping the outsiders out. These are tribes formed from desperation and fear. Other groups spend their energy caring for those within the circle and welcoming newcomers as friends. That is the kind of tribe that feeds the well being of a person and offers support in times of need.

Even in big cities, we can come together in supportive tribal groups. Liberal churches can be like welcoming tribes, as can smaller groups within large congregations. In a big city, there is something for everyone. You can choose the group or groups that fit you best. There are Buddhist meditation groups, contra dancers, belly dancing troupes, singles clubs, and young professionals bureaus. There are cycling commuters, neighborhood block parties, and nonprofit organizations.

Wherever you live, you can make an effort to develop relationships with your neighbors. Have a barbecue for the houses next door to yours. Or introduce yourself to the people in your apartment building. Talk to the other families in your trailer park. Share and borrow tools and food ingredients. Look out for each other.

Join a band! Take a ballroom dancing lesson. Go downtown for the next summer music festival. Just make sure that you surround yourself with a supportive community so that you can feel safe, supported, valued, and free to live the happiest and healthiest life possible.

Don't live in fear of the Other, and don't live in an isolation that leaves you vulnerable to abuse or neglect by authorities or those who wish to do harm. Stretch the boundaries of your self to include your community, and you will grow as an individual. Pay attention to the needs of your community, get involved, vote, and make sure your government knows what you and your people need and expect. We find strength in numbers and joy in positive relationships and freedom.

Make your world your own! Stand up for your neighbors, and sing that gypsy punk!

Comments

  1. ::I want to walk this earth like it is mine!::

    This is the story of my life. What a nice trip you had, and an excellent point you made regarding the economics of war...*sigh*

    People get mixed up with the stupid semantics and forget to see the big picture.

    Anyway, looking forward to seeing my tribe real soon.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be: You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")    35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't

$Monday: How to Make Do Without Hoarding

As more of us stare down the possibility of weeks in quarantine, it's easy to understand why some people are panic shopping. There's not much else to do when most activity and gathering places are shuttered. And many people are terrified--if not of the coronavirus itself, then of the disruptions to daily life and supply chains. But hoarding is disastrous to society; crowding ourselves into grocery stores is a serious health hazard; and there's no stockpile of stuff big enough to last through a doomsday scenario in which--oh, dare I say it--coffee beans become unavailable for the long term. (Not that I believe that will happen, but...) What are we to do? We can take a lesson from our grandparents who lived through the Great Depression and start learning how to do without some of the things people didn't always have. Some of the things we consider "essential" are things which we can, honestly, live without. Here is a list of items that some people are hoardi

$Monday: How to Get the Most Out of Your Groceries

Many of us have, by now, stocked up on enough groceries to last us two or three weeks. If you're like me, you chose to save money and maximize health by purchasing mostly whole ingredients rather than heat-and-eat processed foods. Now, to make those groceries last as long as possible, the key is to minimize waste by controlling portions and consuming things in a logical order. If you're not used to cooking and eating this way, it will take some adjustment to accept that you can't just eat whatever you feel like, whenever you feel like it. This is a great opportunity to learn old-school home economics and develop an appreciation for down-home cooking. If you commit to these habits, you will eventually get used to it and start to find real pleasure in the process, and these kitchen witchery skills will keep you healthier and wealthier long after the pandemic has ended . Yesterday, I had a hard decision to make. Our batch of Scharffen Berger chocolate chunk cookies dwin

$Monday: Corona Summer Self-Care

Nobody wants to hang out in a waiting room at the height of this pandemic summer. One of my friends just dodged an outbreak by procrastinating on having her cat's claws trimmed. Now everyone who's been to that vet during the past few days is supposed to do the two-week quarantine routine. Now on top of copays and the usual discomforts of obtaining care for our furry friends and our human selves, there's the risk of catching the cooties. Definitely go and get any treatments that you need, but it's great to not need as many office visits. I'm doing what I can do at home to take care of my own health and have all of my stupid, silly summer fun in relatively safe ways--like having a redneck pool party in the lawn with my daughter and husband. Here are some other ways I'm staying healthy, safe, and sane while maintaining social distancing and a spark of faith that my kid might somehow be able to go back to school next month: keeping active with silly st

TBT: Full House

Remember when co-housing, roommates, and multi-generational family homes were good ideas? Those living arrangements still have their advantages, but during a pandemic, it is much safer for individuals, romantic partners, and caregiver/dependent units to have their own spaces, amenities, and entrances. I miss the days when that wasn't so. I hope that one day soon, this pandemic will end, and the Great Recession-era post below will once again be relevant... at least for some people, at some times in their lives. I'm sure it is still relevant on well-governed, geographically isolated island nations such as New Zealand and Iceland. Oh, to be in one of those nations at this time! I sure do miss hanging out with my friends and having overnight guests, but in this very particular moment, I am grateful to live in a single-family home with only my husband and daughter and to enjoy the ability to stay put in it most of the time. I sure did not see an out-of-control pandemic coming

$Monday: Can You Breathe?

You can't earn or save money if you can't even breathe. One reason why "it's expensive to be poor" is that people who live in lower-income neighborhoods don't get enough clean air to breathe . I've demonstrated that " You can't afford a poor diet ," and it's even more obvious that you can't give up oxygen to save money. Poor air quality destroys productivity , and the terrible costs of air pollution are mainly borne by the individuals who suffer health conditions, disability, cognitive impairment , and premature death due to their lack of access to clean air. On top of air pollution hazards, the accelerating Covid-19 pandemic is threatening Americans' ability to breathe. Meanwhile, cries of "I can't breathe" draw our attention to escalating police brutality and our federal government militarizing Brownshirt-resembling forces against its own citizens who are protesting peacefully and within their rights according t

$Monday: Testing a New Kitchen Design Before Renovation

My husband and I planned to renovate our worn-out kitchen this year, with my dad's help. And--oop!--we all know what happened to everyone's plans for 2020. There is no way I can keep my family fed properly through the pandemic in my designed-circa-1990, tacked-together, corner-cut, stingy-cheap, crazy, nailed-it-wrong kitchen nightmare that has been crumbling, grumbling, rotting, rusting, and breaking since we bought this house in 2008. We have to do something, so we turned a setback into an opportunity to slow down and beta test some of our new kitchen ideas with temporary staging. It might look insane, but who cares? We won't be having the queen over for tea anytime soon, so we can take time to play with space and function before we commit to building permanent structures and finishing surfaces. For example, open shelves are not practical for everyone. They don't hide clutter or protect things from dust. However, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and prefer

TBT: Buddhist Meditations

Zen meditations! Inspirational quotes! Sick burns! Buddhism offers them all. As many American college students do, I enjoyed studying and practicing Buddhist rituals in college. As a recovering Catholic from a weirdly fundamentalist, Germanic-ish family tradition, I found the "bells and smells" of Buddhist temples familiar in a comforting way and the anti-dogmatic edge of Zen exhilarating in a refreshing way. I learned that extreme prayer and self-control are not owned by Christians, nor is smug superiority. What valuable lessons for a young person to learn. So valuable, in fact, that in our late 30s, my husband and I are still paying the bills for our private college educations. Can you put a price on ancient wisdom? Is that a koan? In my earliest adulthood, I took solace in the meditations below. Please enjoy them here on the Magic Nutshell, free of charge. Buddhist Meditations The Buddha sought a middle path between asceticism and materialism. All over the world, people a

TBT: The Best Free Medicine (Hint: Not Hydroxyclean)

It's not Hydroxyclean. Or any kind of disinfectant. Or hydroxychloroquine. It's not anything hocked by our joke of a president. But it is jokes about that and anything else that makes you laugh instead of rage. Humor has become more important than ever to my family's mental and emotional health during this global crisis. My tastes may have matured (or... something) since my days of watching Sacha Baron Cohen movies--now I prefer watching YouTube shows Trixie and Katya Save the World (WOWPresents) and I Like to Watch (Netflix) and following @knee_deep_in_life on Instagram. My husband and I laugh so hard we cry over a well-timed fart joke. Our nine-year-old daughter is a bit more sophisticated, but she shares the dark side of our sense of humor; we all adore Christina Ricci's iconic portrayal of Wednesday Addams. The news is, as usual, full of horror that isn't funny. Right now, the two main themes seem to be pandemic tragedy and racist violence. My husband and