In “Tribe”, Sebastian Junger details, via several war-related stories, how our modern society lacks the meaning and community necessary for human well-being. The camaraderie, purpose and intensity found in and around war or conflict elevate people. Psychological problems, suicide, and isolation decrease during these times. Extracting from both soldiers and civilians, there seems to be something we can derive from these experiences, and perhaps better the dullness of our daily existence.
Junger is a journalist, who never fought in a war, but visited several war-torn areas. Still, he experienced PTSD and the accompanying panic attacks. There is a dichotomy between horror and extreme belonging during a war, where people experience the worst imaginable nightmares and best possible heroics, sacrifice, friendship and community. These two experiences mesh and the bundle, and are then impossible to separate completely. What people are left is a surprising need to get back to war.
This is the main point of Tribe: why cannot we enjoy peace in relation to how much better it should be compared to war? Why can’t we establish groups, communities, and belonging that would surpass those experiences we are forced to overcome during a war? Tribe offers no clear solutions, but somewhat vague guesses like returning to a more primitive way of life, as in living in more tightly knit communities.
Some post-war healing was better achieved in smaller societies, like those of the Native Americans, where soldiers went through a post-battle ritual. The communities also used to be more in touch with the ongoing war and struggle, and so the soldier’s purpose was better understood.
These issues fall right in line with Daniel Pink’s Drive, in which he broadly declares autonomy, mastery, and purpose being the three core principles that induce drive and promote our mental well-being.
the “operating system” #
Struggle is more easily defeated when armed with purpose and meaning. It can even generate them. One of the nastiest and touching struggles written down are from those who experienced the concentration camps, such as Primo Levi and Victor Frankl.
Enduring the explicit and external hardships require mental toughness, which can be practised in advance. Many of these have been catalogued millennia ago, by Stoic thinkers, and presumably many others. Things like negative visualisation, acknowledging the source of emotions, or the worrying of things only under our control, keep us level headed and from mentally suffocating in the face of difficulties. I draw inspiration from Stoic principles, from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations to the modern The Daily Stoic by Stephen Hanselman and Ryan Holiday.
Stoic ideas can help with implicit and internal hardships, too. Mental models can break a cycle of self-doubt, excess guilt or fear of failure. Sometimes the implicit struggle is so vague, that it is tricky to pinpoint what is wrong. Most of the time, nothing is wrong, but something is lacking. After reading Tribe, I’d be willing to guess belonging and purpose are those things.
at work #
Following lean and teal practices, a modern workplace seems to imitate a tribe. It is good business to establish a community and support, to produce purpose and meaning. We should, as much as possible, mimic structures our genes are still wired for. Teambuilding exercises often mimic crises or other stressful situations, if no such event is available in real life. Overcoming hurdles together increase team spirit.
Too good a streak can have a net-negative effect when bonuses and benefits are taken for granted, and even the slightest problem is multiplied and overanalysed. People tend to generate struggle, they long for it. Different approaches (or lack of them) to difficulties can break teams and their spirits.
Regardless of the size of an organisation, it can be a tribe or contain multiple ones. The main point is to cultivate an environment where different teams and groups can exist, and that they do not become hostile towards each other. This leads to a situation where the tribes overlap, where compassion exists between different units, and competition is healthy.
- Sebastian Junger on JRE