Will Belonging to a Tribe Result in a Longer, Happier Life?

When you think about the people you call your friends, how do feel about them? Do you look forward to seeing them, talking with them? Or do most of those relationships lack an emotional connection – a sense of belonging.




Episode 19 - Will Belonging to a Tribe Result in a Longer, Happier Life?

by Roger Reid


When you think about the people you call your friends, how do feel about them? Do you look forward to seeing them, talking with them? Or do most of those relationships lack an emotional connection – a sense of belonging.

Maybe you define your friends as just a list of names in your phone directory, or someone you occasionally keep in touch with—in case you need a recommendation or an introduction. If this sounds familiar, then you may be hurting your chances of living a long and healthy life.

Hey, welcome back. This is Roger Reid with another episode of Success Point 360.

In a recent Ted Talk titled “What Makes a Good Life?” psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Robert Waldinger recapped findings from the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest study of adult life ever done.

After tracking participants for 78 years, one of the most important discoveries to date has been the importance of personal relationships. The conclusions point to a direct correlation between quality time spent with others and our ultimate longevity.

According to Waldinger’s study, the keyword is quality — it’s about spending time with others who truly care about you and provide a positive influence on your daily activities. And no, Facebook friends don’t count. Neither do LinkedIn connections, or any other virtual relationships that exist solely through social media.

I’m talking about a different kind of relationship — something that goes far deeper than a holiday card at Christmas or catching up on your lodge buddy’s accomplishments at the next annual convention in Biloxi.

Before we get into the specifics of what makes a possible candidate for this kind of relationship, Let’s talk about why we need a tribe in the first place . . . Why we need to belong to a family of like-minded individuals.

I think there are three good reasons that justify creating a peer group, and I’m talking about a group of people in which you can discuss both your personal and professional involvements and concerns.

Number one is based on our culture. Our days are filled with impersonal contact, superficial conversations, and polite exchanges — these are nothing more than momentary brushes with others, they’re typically necessary, but at the end of the day, they turn out to be insignificant.

So here’s a question for you: if we know it’s happening, why do we allow it to continue? It’s simply a matter of time. . . it’s the cost of that time. We rush from one appointment to the next. We schedule our days right down to the minute. Our time is always at a premium, and to ensure we get it all done, we’ve made this default social agreement to restrict ourselves to purely functional communication — And that means engaging others for a specific purpose, and once that purpose is accomplished, then we move on, unaffected and usually unremembered.

Conversely, belonging to a tribe gives us the opportunity to have an honest conversation. It’s a way to offset the daily sense of being detached, from being anonymous. And just as important, it helps to restore our identity, our perspective, and our appreciation for others.

Here’s reason number 2: We need honest feedback. Without objective input and feedback from others, we tend to start believing our own BS. Somebody has to be there to keep us in line, to tell us when our fly is open, or when our direction, thoughts, and actions are leading us down a dangerous road.

Think of it as having a guardian angel, someone who will tell you the truth when you need to hear it the most.

The third reason? We need validation from an authentic source, from people whose opinion we value. These are people who cheer us on when victory is in sight. These are people who can share our celebrations of life and make us realize that our accomplishments do matter, and our achievements are worth the sacrifice.

So, What makes a great tribe member? You might think that having a lot in common would be the starting point. But in practice, common interests are far less important than having a common philosophy and beliefs.

For example, you may not enjoy the same movies, music, or sports, but you think the same way when it comes to the basics — like ethics, integrity, and the principles of interacting with others.

In short, you celebrate and practice similar values.

I put together a list of the five most common traits of typical tribe-mates. And no, you don’t need to take notes, you can find them in the transcript located in the show notes for this episode.

Number one: You accept each other for who and what you are. And you do this realizing there is always the opportunity for change, — because you also share the mutual goal of wanting to become more than you are now.

Number two: You’re a cheerleader, a motivator, mentor, and sometimes, a disciplinarian to your tribe-mates. And you expect the same from them.

Number three: You understand the pressures and time restraints of living life to its fullest, and you resist those feelings of rejection, jealousy, and doubt when the demands of life require you to replace a personal meeting with a phone call.

Number four: You do not judge each other. A strong tribe cannot live in a glass house.

Number five: You honor the commitment of non-disclosure. Tribe members share a confidence of trust, knowing what they reveal to each other will always remain just between them. Breaking that trust is to deny their kinship, to say in effect, you are no longer a member of my tribe.

Call it confidentiality or privacy, you must keep what you know about your tribemates to yourself. Break that commitment, and you have broken a vow of trust. And in the process, you’ve destroyed a vital and important relationship.

How many people does it take to make a tribe? First, understand that we’re talking quality, not quantity. Robert Ringer, a popular author from the seventies, often talked about trading in a bunch of thorns for one perfect rose. And yes, he was talking about people. That analogy has stayed with me all these years, because at the time I was reading his work, I didn’t know many roses. But I knew a lot of thorns.

According to Ringer, having one friend who is honest, approachable, and trustworthy, is better than an army of acquaintances who may call you “friend,” but are nowhere to be found in a crisis.

And that points to a vital difference between a real tribe member and a “so-called” friend…

A close friendship implies a sense of caring, of wanting to be with that person. No, I’m not talking about sex or physical expressions of affection, I’m talking about that comfortable feeling of satisfaction, joy, or pleasure experienced when you’re in their company.

And on the flip side, while you may (and typically will) experience those same feelings when you’re in the company of your tribe, it isn’t a necessary or mandatory component of a tribal relationship.

In fact, a good tribe member may make you feel a bit uncomfortable from time to time because they offer and expect absolute honesty — and that’s something a lot of friendships aren’t able to tolerate.

So where do find your tribe? What’s the best place to begin looking for possible members?

Tribe members can come from just about anyplace, but there’s always some sources that are more likely to produce better candidates than others. For example, your workplace may offer business associates, but seldom a tribe member. The environment is typically too structured, too repressive to allow for the uninhibited expression and honesty that you want in a tribe member.

Likewise, looking to your immediate family as a source of tribe-mates is usually unproductive. Although there are exceptions, your family has a specific vision and identity of who you are, based on a shared history. But in most cases, who you are now is not who you were then.

And seldom does your family grant you the recognition for who you have become.

That’s why your family hasn’t showered you with accolades for your last promotion, or for starting a new business, or for accomplishing some other life achievement.

In spite of their best intentions, those closest to you may automatically discount your accomplishments with, “Yeah, she’s a vice president now, but she’s still the same little girl who likes ice cream sundaes and going to the part to watch the ducks. She hasn’t really changed.”

But in fact, you’re not that same little girl — and you know it. You have changed. You’ve become someone else, and your family refuses to recognize it.

There are lots of reasons why family members automatically discount your accomplishments, ranging from jealousy and separation anxiety to the need to preserve the past and your place within it.

Certainly, a biological family serves a purpose in your life, but seldom do its members have the objectively and common life experience to take their place as a member of your tribe.

So now that we’ve talked about where you typically won’t find tribe members, let’s talk about some of the best sources from which to find possible tribemates.

I suggest taking inventory of your current relationships. It’ s not unusual to find tribe members in your social circle. The reason they haven’t shown themselves is due to our common tendency to treat our casual friends with a substantial dose of careful caution. We’re afraid of getting too personal, we’re afraid of revealing too much, and of offering them the opportunity to do the same.

But sometimes, you have to take the risk.

If you believe you’ve found a likely candidate, remember that the process of creating a tribal relationship is not the same as asking someone to join a fraternal organization. In fact, approaching the subject with, “Do you want to join my tribe?” can produce everything from a polite rejection to outright suspicion.

Approach the idea a little at a time. Make it a point to listen more than you speak, and invite others to talk candidly after your given them an assurance of confidentiality.

You can also initiate a more personal conversation by inviting their honest opinion about a personal or work situation, on the condition your disclosure remains confidential.

And when we talk about the possibility of changing the status of an existing relationship from an acquaintance to a tribe member, the process does not have to be initiated in person. And that can be especially important as we typically have less personal interaction these days with the current pandemic requiring us to adjust the extent of our face to face contact.

It can begin with a simple email, asking for an opinion about a situation with a customer or a supplier, or a neighbor. And it doesn’t have to be something negative or a problem that you’re trying to solve.  You’re simply asking for their opinion about a possible option you’re considering. And if that’s not possible or realistic, ask for feedback on a recent action you took, or a decision you made. Add that you value their opinion, and based on their experience and expertise, you would really appreciate their input.

That can be all it takes to get the transition started.   

And in the beginning, avoid revealing anything about anyone they know personally, or disclosing information that could have negative repercussions if they betray the confidence.

 If this sounds like a test, It is. And with each new exchange, you’ll sense the formation of a bond — or you won’t.

You have to go with your gut, and above all, don’t rush it. It’s a process and it takes time to evolve organically.

And don’t overlook your spouse or significant other as a tribe member. I know it’s not the first person that usually comes to mind as a potential tribe mate, but if you already have a strong, healthy relationship with your partner, why not make it even stronger with honest disclosure and conversation that is open, sincere, and non-judgmental?

Granted, there’s a lot of primary relationships that will not stand up to this kind of transparency, and that can be a symptom of other problems –but that’s a subject for another podcast. I just want to put the option out there, and if it seems viable, if it’s a possibility, try expanding the boundaries of your conversation, ask your spouse for his or her opinion about an issue or concern that’s important to you. Their willingness to offer an honest, objective answer is a real indication that you’ve found your first tribe member.  

Big question: Is it worth the time and effort to create tribal relationships? Those who do often claim that the benefits exceed those received from participating in a mastermind group or other types of business-related or professional organizations.

The reason is simple. Most trade and professional groups are focused on career and work topics. But a successful life consists of more than dealing with the challenges of business.

And unlike a forum devoted exclusively to making money and growing a commercial or financial enterprise, a tribe offers an atmosphere where any topic, any subject can be discussed without judgment.

Your tribe members are free to question, comment, and contribute openly, with each member benefiting from the synergy of a shared perspective.

But tribal relationships come with a price: First of all, they require an active commitment to maintaining them. You have to spend time and take the responsibility of being there for others when they need you.

And that’s a simple equation: You have to be there for your tribe-mates because you’re expecting them to be there for you.

But remember, the benefits far outweigh the cost: a strong, caring tribe is the number one defense against loneliness and isolation — both of which are toxic to our health and longevity.

I’ll end this episode with an anonymous quote: “If you find someone who makes you smile, who checks up on you often to see if you’re okay, who watches out for you and wants the very best for you, then don’t let them go. Keep them close and never take them for granted. People like that are difficult to find. But once you find them, they can make a difference in the quality and longevity of your life.”

Hey, that’s it for this episode. If you’d like a transcript, it’s available at successpoint360.com. Just click on the show notes for this episode. And if you’d like to ask a question or offer a comment, you can leave me a voice mail on the successpoint360 website. Just look for the voicemail link in the main header. You can also send me an email at roger@rogerreid.com.

Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next time.

© 2020, Roger A. Reid, All Rights Reserved