At a recent community gathering, Kate Beecroft expressed a fascinating idea. She talked about “poly tribalism”: many of us are part not just of one community, but of a bunch of communities. Yes, there are some communities where we are mostly passive observers on the periphery. But many of us still actively engage with several communities at the same time. We genuinely love them, they all play a role in our lives, but often for different reasons.
And yet being an active part of different communities comes with challenges: how do I split my energy, time and attention between the groups? Should I feel guilty if I go back and forth between different groups? Why does switching between communities sometimes feel like cheating? What about sharing the same information across different groups?
While in the past, maybe some of us had one dominant tribe (our village, our church), I sense that poly tribalism is a reality that will only become stronger in the future: different communities will cater to different parts of our identity.
As someone trying to nurture meaningful communities, there is part of me that finds poly tribalism scary: will my community ever be good enough? Will members just leave to another group when something isn’t quite working out for them? Will people become less and less committed? Is there even a point for my group? Or are all of my members’ needs already met somewhere else?
These are fair questions to ask. Yet I don’t think that the answer is for a community to demand “exclusivity” from it’s members. That’s neither realistic nor productive. Rather I see poly tribalism as an opportunity: it forces us as community to be extra clear about what we stand for (and be explicit about what not), about what the value is that we want to create, and – most importantly – to set clear boundaries of what the commitment is of members to be part of the group.
As always, grateful to hear your thoughts and perspectives!