Inflexible Tribal Thinking Is A Weapon Of Mass Destruction – Insights From The Wilderness (#275)



Have you noticed we are living in an increasingly contentious, ideologically rigid world? There are few times in American history that match the levels of polarization, emotional angst, anger, stress, anxiety, and division we are witnessing today. We are divided over issues of gay marriage, Trump, abortion, healthcare, politics, religion, wealth inequality, the economy, job creation, immigration, building walls, building pipelines, race, ethnic background, poverty, social programs, hunger, and women’s rights. The list is endless.


  • Why are we so divided?
  • Why are tempers and emotions over these issues becoming so heated and contentious?
  • Why are we a nation so fearful of others?
  • What has happened to the soul of our nation?

We were once the light on the top of the hill that immigrants honored and used to embrace hope. Today we’re building walls to keep them out. And those that are here are being deported.

It feels like our nation is coming apart at the seams.

I believe part of the problem is too much uncertainty and far too many tribes.

Too Much Uncertainty

We are a nation awash in uncertainty. We are a nation increasingly fearful and anxious as we increasingly come to grips with the sobering reality that the future isn’t what it used to be. And that growing uncertainty is creating high levels of anxiety. To cope with that anxiety and regain the hope and faith we once had in the future of our nation, we are increasingly turning to tribal thinking and the certainty that comes from rigid ideological beliefs. Unfortunately, the rigid ideological beliefs embedded in tribal thinking paradoxically create more anxiety, not less. Witness the higher levels of division and conflict we are currently experiencing in our country.

We Have Too Many Tribes And Way Too Much Certainty

In our frantic search for certainty, we have unintentionally created too many tribes and too much certainty.

For example, we have news tribes called Fox News, CNN News, NYTimes News, Washington Post News, CNBC News, and Huffington News. Over time, each of these news medias has created ideological bubbles, or points of view, designed to reinforce their respective ideological beliefs, concerns, anxieties, and fears.

Over time, the ideological beliefs and points of view promoted by each of these news “tribes” has created high levels of ideological certainty among their listeners; a  certainty that is, on one hand, comforting, but they have also paradoxically increased in their listeners a higher level of anxiety and fear toward “others”.

Take a moment to think about the many ideological tribes that surround us. Every neighborhood we live in is filled with tribes. And the members of these tribes tend to assume that the ideological views and beliefs of their tribe represent the comfort of absolute truth. We have religious “God” tribes, Republican GOP tribes, Democrat tribes, Independent tribes, liberal tribes, conservative tribes, global warming green tribes,  global warming denial tribes, pro-immigrant tribes, anti-immigrant tribes, build a wall tribes, anti-wall tribes, repeal Obamacare tribes, protect Obamacare tribes….you get the point.

Each these various tribes have ideological beliefs and views that support the tribal identity of their members.

Our Human Ego Loves Certainty, And It’s Own “Self”-Identity

The beliefs and views of the members in each of the tribes listed above reflect the tribe’s collective ego. However, each member of a tribe uses the ideological beliefs and views of their respective tribe to create their own ego’s core “self”-identity. When tribal members use their tribe’s beliefs and views to create their own ego’s “self”-identity, the less fragmented they tend to feel emotionally. The closer members hold their tribal beliefs and views, the more those tribal beliefs and views can provide a sense of wholeness and certainty; a tribal sense of  “self”-identity. In other words, they “belong” to a tribe. For example, I am a Christian. I am a Muslim. I am pro-Trump. I am passionately anti-Trump. I am a Republican. I am a Democrat. The number of tribes that exist in the neighborhoods, communities, families, and work environments we live and work in is virtually unlimited. We not only belong to a tribe, but we are also surrounded by tribes.

The Primary Goal Of The Human Ego Is Protecting Our Self-Identity

The primary function of our individual ego, especially the early conditioning of our childhood primitive ego, is the protection of our sense of “self” or tribal “self”-identity. When others challenge, attack, judge, label, reject, mock, or disagree with the beliefs and views that support our ego’s sense of “self”, we will passionately and aggressively defend those beliefs and views as “absolute truth”. Facts will not deter us. The logical argument will not convince us. Even scientific evidence will not change the tribal beliefs or views our individual ego has used to build its “self” identity. Stated simply, our ego does not like change.

Primitive Ego Definition

Ideologically Rigid Tribal Beliefs Are Weapons Of Mass Destruction

Every tribe has a different version or interpretation of  “absolute truth”, different understandings of the problems that face us, and different solutions or ways those problems should best be addressed or solved.

To destroy the relationships we have with family and friends, create conflict and emotional violence with others, tear apart neighborhoods, create life long enemies, shut down compassion, empathy and cooperation with those around us, simply tell them their beliefs, opinions, concerns, fears, and anxieties are unfounded, wrong, stupid, or ignorant. And ironically of course, if relationship destruction is your goal, it’s best to always use the imperative voice of absolute truth when you share “your” rigid, inflexible tribal beliefs and views.

It’s helpful to remember that ideologically inflexible tribal thinking is an excellent weapon of mass destruction. When used, it is almost guaranteed to create gridlock, conflict, and violence.

A Final Thought: To Create A Peaceful World, A Better Alternative Would Be The Use Of Polarity Theory Or What I Refer To As Middlepath Thinking

Middlepath thinking and polarity theory are based on the concept that no-one is smart enough to be wrong 100% of the time. Conversely, no one is smart enough to be right 100% of the time. So if we value the relationships we have with those around us, it’s always best to begin our conversations by first searching for the truths and values in the other person’s point of view……before we humbly offer our own point of view.

Simply reflecting the truths and values we see or hear in the other person’s tribal beliefs and views is not enough. The other person has to experience and “know” we genuinely honor and respect their beliefs and views when we reflect them back. We need to ask questions. Encourage them to reflect deeper on the truths and values you honor in their beliefs and views. Then, and only then, should you humbly offer your point of view.

Remember, the goal of all conversation and discussion should be a search for deeper understanding of the other person’s position…..not their agreement with your beliefs and views.


It’s helpful to remember,  the primary function of our human ego, especially the early conditioning of our childhood primitive ego, is to protect our sense of “self”. Our “self”-identity. We all use tribal thinking to create our ego’s core sense of “self”.

When we aggressively disagree with the tribal or individual beliefs and views of others or attempt to challenge, attack, judge, label, reject, mock, or disagree with the beliefs and views that support their sense of “self”……they will not change their mind. They “will” passionately defend their beliefs, opinions, and views; whether tribal or individual.

  • Facts will not deter them.
  • Logical argument will not convince them.
  • Scientific evidence will not change their individual or tribal beliefs.

If we want to protect our relationships and manifest compassion in the world, we need to work harder to first understand the other person’s tribal beliefs and individual views….not get them to change their mind and agree with our tribal beliefs and views.

If all of us could learn to embrace this simple wisdom, our nation, our communities, our families, our neighborhoods and even our planetary home could become more compassionate, gentle, peaceful and richer.

Ideologically inflexible thinking is thought of as a weapon of mass destruction. When used, it is almost guaranteed to create gridlock, conflict, and violence. It will destroy our relationships with others.







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