The Sunday Sessions: 4.15.18 Edition

Sunday is traditionally a day in which we slow down, take time for reflection, and recharge. Every Sunday, I will share a poem or excerpt that will make us think, wonder, or even laugh as we prepare ourselves for the upcoming week.

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The Sunday Sessions: 4.15.18 Edition


In Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe, Junger explains how our modern society is at odds with the tribal mores of our ancestors. We used to live in small bands of 50 to 100 people, relying on one another for our survival. It is now possible for a human to live entirely alone, never having to see a single soul thanks to the invention of the internet. We can work remotely and everything we need can be ordered online and shipped to our front door. We don’t need to live in tribes anymore, and it is making us miserable.

Junger has a chapter that focuses on wartime. In it, both soldiers and civilians alike reminisce about war and the closeness they felt to those around them. For some, the war days were some of the happiest of their lives. This was due to the similarities of life in wartime to the lives of our tribal ancestors: People living and working in close proximity to one another, sharing what they had in an egalitarian manner, and striving toward the common goal of survival.

One of the most eye-opening passages for me was when Junger related that only Western children historically have slept with dolls or other comfort objects. In tribal cultures, children didn’t need or want them because they felt safe and secure sleeping communally with their families. Apparently, babies and young children fear to be alone at night because they still associate being alone with being unprotected from dangerous animals. Learning this has made me much more patient with my 17-month-old, who has regressed back to unending crying when we leave her after putting her down for the night.

Tribe makes clear that the society we are currently living in is almost the complete opposite of what humans need to thrive socially and emotionally. He writes it takes 25,000 years for us to evolve, and it’s only been 10,000 years since we developed agriculture. In other words, we’ve got a long way to go before we can be comfortable with our current living situation. Unfortunately (and frustratingly), Junger doesn’t offer up any real solutions for our predicament.

I know I’ll be pondering what we can do to compromise our genetic needs with the safety and comfort that comes with our current model of living, but I can’t help wondering if we should go back to the old ways. At a professional development workshop that taught teachers how to integrate the arts and Hawaiian culture in our classrooms, the workshop’s teacher asked us if we would rather live in ancient Hawaiian times or live in modern day society. Many people said they’d want to live amongst the ancient Hawaiians, but I raised my hand and said that I wanted to live in modern times because I enjoyed using an indoor bathroom. (I thought my reason was funny, but no one laughed, and that was the last time I tried to make a joke at a teaching workshop.) Now after reading Tribe, my answer may have changed.

Question of the Week

If you had a choice, would you rather live in a tribe of 50 to 100 people like our tribal ancestors, or would you prefer to stay in our modern society?

2 thoughts on “The Sunday Sessions: 4.15.18 Edition”

  • I’ve found that strong sense of “belonging” when I worked with groups on art or activist projects. It has been a long time since I’ve been part of either, and I miss that feeling. I think I would rather go back to simpler times myself and be part of a small, close-knit community. Somehow it feels more complicated than ever to build those kinds of relationships.

    • Yes, I agree. I don’t know of many close-knit communities anymore. The more our communities grow and the less we need to rely on one another for survival, the less likely we are to form close ties to anyone. Technology is wonderful, but I worry about what it’s doing to our society in terms of social relationships.

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