We possess a primal instinct to belong, to be part of something and to feel validation for who we are. Akin to our ancestors, we desire to be valued, to experience unique connections and to be part of a tribe. However, the way the modern tribe is constructed, can we all really feel a part of it?
As the world becomes increasingly homogenized the modern tribe is growing larger and larger, and more and more people are striving for the same means of modern tribal validation. We are taught to value the same educational and life paths: school, more school, marry, have kids, embrace a career, make a lot of money, be a good consumer, accumulate possessions, retire and die. When we stray from this linear and conventional path-we feel unaccepted and we feel pain.
This is, in fact, normal. We are wired to be part of a tribe. We need others to survive and it goes against our ancestral grain to be an “outsider.” Being “abandoned”, to the primitive brain equals danger and possibly death.
This is part of the reason why change is so hard. Part of us wants to follow the path of other tribe members: friends, family, peers, leaders, celebrities, etcetera because there is safety here. Even if something inside of you senses that change is necessary, there is something powerful and primal that wants to keep you following the same path. To not stand out. To be safe and in the comfort of the tribe. I believe this is natural and there is nothing inherently wrong with anyone for wanting this. But is this primal instinct inhibiting our happiness and is there an alternative?
Hierarchy versus Territory
Steven Pressfield, in the book, The War of Art explains that individuals within the animal kingdom express themselves in one of two manners: hierarchically or territorially.
As Pressfield eludes, in a hierarchy, there is a pecking order; your worth is established by externals and your happiness is dependent upon rising through and maintaining rank in the order. In the modern tribe, it is climbing the corporate ladder, keeping up with the Jones’, hangin’ with the popular kids. It is drink this beer, wear these clothes, act and speak this way. Live for others. It is competition versus cooperation.
A hierarchy may still work in the animal kingdom as it may have worked for some ancestral human tribes when the tribe was in fact much smaller. We knew who the top dogs were and where we fit in relation to them. We could contribute in our unique way and identify the unique personalities and contributions of other tribal members.
The hierarchy does not work well when the numbers become too big however, as is the case currently. As Pressfield states, “A pecking order can only hold so many chickens.” There are so many people in the world that we as individuals feel overwhelmed. We function in perpetual competition with no real way to establish value and place within the tribe.
There are too many people competing for the same thing.
To function territorially, in contrast, is to exist as the term suggests- in your “territory” or on your “turf.” It is the unique arena where you exist solely on your own accord. It is where you engage in life for the engagement itself. It is what you would do if you were the only person left in the world and is something you are probably uniquely talented in. It is the realm of creation.
What does living territorially look like?
Pressfield gives the examples of Arnold Schwarzenegger (at least the younger version); his territory was in the gym, Stevie Wonder’s was on the piano, the rock climber’s is on the mountain immersed in the moment, the writer or artist’s is within creative endeavor.
As opposed to the hierarchy, the territory sustains itself and is therefore not reliant upon external validation. There is no pecking order because it is not a point of comparison or competition. Living territorially means tapping into your unique abilities and interests, external recognition and validation aside.
Why Finding Your Territory Is Critical
1) It has helped you and you need it to help others. Think of the people that have had the most positive influence in your life, famous or otherwise. You will probably realize that they found their niche, developed a genuine perspective, stopped worrying about how they were perceived by others and did something amazing. They found their turf and created something unique and as a result of this, they have made a tremendous impact on your life and others. Take a moment to think of the innovators, coaches, mentors, teachers and artists who have influenced you. What would your life be like if they had not found their territory?
The same goes for you. What contribution are you denying others and the world by not finding your territory?
2) It creates cooperation versus competition. Competition is healthy and an innate part of us. But a culture dominated by competition leaves us feeling forever unfulfilled. For example, a tribe of self-competing alpha hunters that values only fighting and hunting has a narrow skill set.
While great at fighting and hunting, what happens when they all kill each other?
Who has the qualities to nurture and teach the young, the patience and skills to gather food, to mediate conflict, to tell stories? The point is, cooperation is vital to the success of the tribe and each member must offer something unique. Every member’s contribution is vital and necessarily variable.
While we are no longer working together to fend off predators, we are striving to not fall prey to a self-destructive world. When we find our territory, we find our unique contribution and offer it to the tribe. This contribution together with the unique contributions of others allows for cooperation rather than perpetual competition. The tribe is stronger for this.
3) It creates belonging. I see people struggling with where they are “supposed” to be in life, what they are supposed to own and who they are supposed to associate with. This is hierarchical thinking and it creates great strain, alienation and discontent. We need to reject this and create a new framework. We need to actively seek and connect with others and form our own tribes.
Imagine speaking and living in a way that no loner felt contrived. When you live territorially you create the opportunity to present a non-contrived version of yourself. When people know you, they know the real you and your relationships will be stronger as they are based on connection versus social obligation. You present something unique and some people, the ones that matter, will be drawn to this.
When you find your territory, you find your tribe.