Before I start reading or listening to an audiobook, I typically ask myself, “why are you interested in the book?”. The answer usually relates to the pursuit of knowledge. The question ensures that I read books that align with my goals, which in turn increases the likelihood that I finish reading the title.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger struck a chord with me because I have been an expatriate since 2004, and under normal circumstances, am a frequent traveller. As a result, I occasionally think about the concept of a tribe, a community with similar values or interests. In the book, Sebastian Junger explores the importance of close-knit communities while lamenting the failings of modern western society.
Speaking as someone who leads a privileged life, I am incredibly grateful for the book recommendation, which came from a British friend who, like me, works in innovation and has also lived in Malaysia and New Zealand.
The above said I could see how the book would mean very little to much of the world’s population who don’t live in a condo or behind a white picket fence and have more pressing day-to-day concerns.
Junger makes an essential point regarding the highly individualised and fractured western way of life. He explores the idea that seemingly small issues erode common decency over time. I agree, littering, a failure to indicate or give way when driving or the inability to muster a warm “hello” to a neighbour are all evidence of the absence of tribe.
He also points out that a sense of community often comes from shared adversity, which, bodes well for the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. When talking about the 1950s and 60s, my mother refers to “a time when people seemed to want to help each other, were courteous and polite and were working towards a common good.” The post-WWII spirit.
At times, the book feels disjointed, perhaps more like a series of academic notes and opinions. Still, the central theme of the book is thought-provoking and does highlight some concerning human traits. It suggests that those living in modern developed societies have a higher chance of losing their moral compass.
When I headed overseas in 2004, it was years before I realised that I was allowing travel to broaden my mind. By stepping outside of my tribe, I gained perspective. And I would recommend that if you have the chance to live in a different country, you should grasp it with both hands.
On a personal note, the best advice, I can give is that comparison is the thief of joy. You celebrate the strengths of a tribe/community/country when you have the good fortune to live in someone else’s even though you may never quite fit in!
If 2020 teaches us anything, it is that all tribes are connected. I, therefore, urge you to be compassionate when discussing each other’s imperfections and to focus on what we should learn from one another. The best leaders find ways to manage and reconcile polarities.
My next book is “The Great Influenza – The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History” by John M. Barry which will be followed by the “Start-up Nation” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer.