Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"Tribe" by Sebastian Junger

"Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging" is an expanded version of an article that Sebastian Junger wrote for Vanity Fair -- a short & well-spaced 136 pages (plus source notes).

In this case, less is definitely more: there's a lot packed into this slim volume. It's well written and thought provoking -- a fascinating look at how humans have banded together over time to survive -- and how modern life works against our deep-seated need to belong, and:
"why -- for many people -- war feels better than peace and hardship can turn out to be a great blessing and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations." (p. xxvi)  
Most the reviews I've read focus on what "Tribe" has to say about the military and PTSD -- the main subject of Junger's original article, and something he has often written about before. But we also learn about American Indian tribal life (and its appeal to American frontier settlers), infant sleeping practices, the London Blitz of the Second World War, the Springhill (Nova Scotia) mining disaster of 1958, mass shootings, and so much more.

Near the end of the book, Junger also makes some timely observations about the deep divisions in modern American society. "People who speak with contempt for one another will probably not remain united for long," he says. "The most alarming rhetoric comes out of the dispute between liberals and conservatives, and it’s a dangerous waste of time because they’re both right." (p. 126)

"If you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the places where you’re different -- you underscore your shared humanity,” Rachel Yehuda of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City tells him. (p. 127)

Makes sense to me...

*** *** ***

One reason I was interested in reading this book was that both PamelaLisa have referred to it in different forums where I follow them. In the ALI community, we often talk about the importance of"finding our tribe" and the support we give and receive to & from each other -- and I was curious to see how Junger's concept of "Tribe" would relate to the ALI world.  

Junger doesn't address infertility issues here, but it's certainly possibly to extract some lessons/meaning for our own situations from this book. One of its main messages is that people will bond together in times of adversity and when dealing with a common adversary -- and I think that's one of the driving forces behind the growth of online communities such as ours. I wouldn't say the fertile world is an "adversary," of course -- but when you're dealing with infertility & pregnancy loss, there's certainly a feeling of alienation and "other-ness" that the fortunate fertile probably don't realize even exists, let alone respond to in an adequate or satisfying way. That's why we feel such a sense of relief and belonging when we discover others -- online or "in real life" -- who have shared a similar experience, and why we consider them our "tribe."   

Here's another quote from the book that spoke to me:  
“...human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others.” (p. xxx) 
Hmmm -- let's see. When you can't get or stay pregnant -- which the majority of women do with ease (and often without giving the subject much thought), and which some consider the main purpose of a woman's existence -- you feel anything BUT competent. We are often forced to hide our authentic selves and feelings as we struggle through infertility & loss.  (Infertility & loss, of course, change who we are in profound ways, leaving us to try to figure out who we are now, and who we're going to be, if we're not going to be parents.)  And infertility and loss, and this struggle to find and maintain our authentic selves in the face of adversity, creates barriers between those of us who suffer and those who don't.  At a time when we badly need support from others, we find them shying away from the sadness and messiness of our situations and the rawness of our emotions, and the "bad luck" we represent. No wonder we have such difficulty finding "contentment"!   

“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It's time for that to end.”  (p. xxvi) 

Who feels less necessary in a society fixated on families, children and baby bumps than a childless woman? 

And yes, it's time for that to end. 

This was book #10 that I've read so far in 2017, bringing me to 42% of my 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am 3 books behind schedule to meet my goal. :p  ;)  


  1. I always enjoy your book reviews! This sounds interesting. The word choice, too. My family is having a reunion this summer and we got matching shirts that say "I love my tribe." I have no objection to wearing these shirts with the fam, but in my cohort of babyloss moms, we refer to ourselves (and all bereaved parents) as our "tribe." A band of people with a common understanding and experience, united by tragedy, but stronger and better because of this community. So the shirt makes me think of both tribes that I'm part of, and even though I will happily wear it (and post it on ig, no doubt!) with my cousins, I'm always going to think of my other tribe, too.

  2. Great review, and I particularly related to the quote you picked out about feeling competent, authentic, and connected.

    Okay, with you, Pamela, and Lisa talking about this book, I might actually have to read it!

  3. This sounds like such an interesting book! I'm always interested in this idea of "tribes," of finding a group with whom you belong, or share ideals with, or something like that. That piece on the divisiveness of current America...oy. Yes. I don't know where we're headed but it doesn't feel very good. I agree with Mali, love the quote about authenticity, connectedness, and competency.