One of my life mantras comes from Maya Angelou:
Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
We apply this easily to many skill sets: math, reading, various arts, physical skills, and so on.
We don’t apply it as well to our beliefs and how we interact with the world. I am trying to keep that piece close to the foreground in my mind so I can, in that sense, do better.
I have lived a life of privilege in many ways, being middle class, white, cisgendered, able-bodied.
I have also lived life as a female, and I’m enormously frustrated when a man tells me that something that I experience regularly doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.
So I try to listen, understand, and adjust when people whose experience is different than mine talk to me about a slice of their life that is unfamiliar to me.
Words are important. People who are not damaged by them argue their insignificance, which always struck me kind of funny. If it’s so insignificant, why can’t you choose another word?
So when a Native American friend posted an article on Facebook about the word tribe, I read it, I thought about it, I looked up other sources and gained more perspective.
In my poor summary, it’s problematic in describing groups of people perceived to be primitive, including both Native and African tribes. But it’s also problematic because the concept of tribe in the sense we colloquially use it was stripped of both Natives and Africans for White people’s purposes, and while that might have started a long time ago, we haven’t fixed it yet.
It’s not a word I’ve used frequently, so it didn’t take a lot of effort to remove it from my working vocabulary. But I’ve wanted it a few times in my writing and my invitations, and I haven’t found a good synonym.
I need a word to reference a group of like-minded people who stick together.
“Family” has the stickiness but there’s an element of exclusivity by natural causes. There’s also a tremendously wide range of feelings elicited by the concept of family, tapping ideally into feelings of love and safety, but often into the opposite. Or into the sadness of infertility. Or of loss through divorce or death.
“Community” feels sterile to me. Perhaps I’ve not had the experience necessary for that to have the bonding element that I’m looking for.
“Band,” the place I grew up and lived and loved for so many years, comes the closest, but I also know that’s a feeling exclusive to the people who’ve experienced it. (And I’m sure, like family and community, there are people whose experience doesn’t connect “band” with goodness.)
I had a conversation about this with a few friends the other day, and in the case of my blog and mailing list (where I currently invite people to “join the family” for lack of something better), we had a very engaging and sometimes hilarious brainstorm involving both animal group names and geometry. (My blog is called “Heat’s Tangent City” because of the many directions my ideas flow from their starting point. And obstinacy was my favorite animal group name and maybe fitting but perhaps not ideal for branding.)
On either level—specific-to-me or more general—what’s a good word to use instead of tribe?
I thought of Heat’s Herd, because “Heat Herd” was my nickname before the Herd was dropped and I became plain old Heat. Two arguments against: 1- not a lot of people know that; 2- I don’t like the ownership of the apostrophe-s. While I am the connecting point of the people in my herd, the ownership thing feels … slimy? I don’t have a good explanation as to why; in this moment, I don’t need one. The feeling is enough.
So. What word do you use instead of tribe? (Or what word will you use going forward, if you’ve not thought about it before?)