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The Dangers of Toxic Tribalism

By Staff | Jan 15, 2021

Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol, a politically motivated riot which resulted in the loss of five lives including that of 42-year-old Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, was truly a shock and a devastating moment in American history. But the whole ordeal was not a surprise.

One only needs to turn on the television or read a Facebook post to see how political polarization caused by differing (and/or extreme) viewpoints and toxic tribalism has created a vicious and deep divide, not only across the United States, but across the world. This division has spilled over into all facets of our lives, from religion to race to health, and shows no sign of slowing down. With such dangerous levels of anger seeming to exist for others outside of one’s own belief system, how can we avoid succumbing to toxic tribalism?

We are built to be tribal and tribalism itself is not inherently bad. Human beings are not really built to survive without group support. Historically a tribe can offer protection and survival while also fulfilling social needs and requirements. However, tribalism can go too far,

Elizabeth Segal, Ph.D., Social Empathy and writer for Psychology Today, says, “Bad tribalism is a group identity that fosters the bullying and scapegoating of others not like you. Bad tribalism joins people out of anger, jealousy, and spite, not for collective well-being.”

Recognize toxic tribalism – Our first step towards creating a healthier society and an increase in productive convsersation is to recognize that groups and ideas built on anger, hate, and disdain build those same traits in ourselves. We stay angry with constant urging.

Be an individual – Distinguish yourself from the group. Question the group’s assumptions, as well as your own. Try and find a way to take an objective approach to issues and ideas and not just follow along blindly.

Keep an open mind – Entertain contradictory ideas, especially ones that may go against your current belief system and worldview.

Empathize/Be Kind – Step outside yourself and see the world from another’s eyes. Empathy can allow you to understand others, find similarities and recognize how we are all human beings.

Thomas Paine once said, “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.” The “Us” versus “Them” mentality that currently exists is leading us all to a dangerous conclusion. If we can begin to recognize the value in each others without demonizing the differences, maybe someday toxic tribalism can end.