Comparison, tribes, and the right standard

We are born into small tribes. Each tribe has its own rules, and its own standards. These standards shape the tribe, and set expectations of the members. These standards aren’t usually written down, but they shape who we are and who we become.

Tribes like it when we follow the standards. When we don’t follow, we are compared to those standards and found lacking. When we try to follow new, different, or better standards, the tribe reacts harshly by enforcing the old standards. The comparison continues, we feel “less than” and out-of-place.

But our original tribe is not the only tribe we have. We find and join other tribes as we progress through life and we develop relationships along the way. But these new tribes have standards as well.

The tribe comparison continues and there are more and more standards to be measured against.

But many times we are different. We don’t seem to fit exactly within the tribes, both the original one, and the new ones. We used to fit in the tribe, but something happens when we start to grow, make progress or improve. We start to move beyond the standards of the old tribe, and many tribes feel progress as a threat and they enforce the old standard.

Sometimes the standard enforcement comes as questions. But they are not really questions, they are an attempt to enforce the standards of the Tribe.

“Why are you different?”

“Who do you think you are?”

“Do you think you are better than us?”

“Why are you eating (or not eating) that?”

“Why are you not drinking?”

“Why are you considering college?”

“Why are you asking so many questions?”

“Why are you setting those goals?”

“Why aren’t you just happy with what you have?”

“Why would you go back to school?”

Your improvement can be seen a judgement or enforcing a standard on them, and that makes the tribe very insecure.

These tribes and standards also develop in our workplaces. There are standards to meet, and new-comers are expected to keep their head down, and follow along. Any lack of conformity is met with the standard tribe messaging.

“This is the way we have always done it.”

“We have tried that before.”

“Those new ideas won’t go anywhere.”

“Don’t make waves.”

But in our workplaces, we still want to achieve, to grow, and develop so we try new and creative approaches. That is when the tribe may go on the offensive to shut us down. Again our efforts invoke tribe insecurity.

“He is always changing things, it wastes our time.”

“She spends so much time on how it looks, it makes our stuff look bad.”

“He should just focus on his job, and stay in his lane.”

“She is an annoying perfectionist overachiever.”*

*Note: This was actually said yesterday in a meeting. Tribe insecurity and enforcement of standards is real and can be raw in its application and cause ripple effects in our organizations and cause harm to our most talented people. If you listen, you can hear the tribe standards being applied in meetings and conversations designed to shame and quell initiative and achievement.

(Take a minute and let that last one sink in. Imagine that you were in a group meeting in your organization, and just before you shared with the group, those words were used against you. How do you feel? How is your motivation? How is your creativity? How is your connection to the organization?)

It makes sense that the original tribe might act this way, but even these new tribes don’t like rebels. So the tribes begin to compare us to the standard, and we compare ourselves to that standard.

When we compare ourselves or others compare us to some standard that we are not meeting, we may assume there is something wrong with us, and we try harder to fit in.

But what if the tribe standard is wrong?

Tribes do not like it when you question the standard.

So the comparison against the tribe’s standard continues.

We feel like we are wrong-sized, that we don’t fit, and maybe there is something wrong with us.

But maybe the tribe we were born into, or the tribes we find ourselves in as just simply the wrong tribes for us. Maybe we are not the problem.

We need to find the tribes, filled with people who are more consistent with where we are and where we are going.

Too healthy? Not for the healthy tribes.

Too intellectual? Not for the intellectual tribes.

Too strong? Not for the strong tribes.

Too creative? Not for the creative tribes.

Too driven? Not for the driven tribes.

Too emotional? Not for the emotional tribes.

Maybe comparing ourselves to lessor things, lessor tribe standards, is what makes us feel inadequate or wrong-sized.

Maybe we are not wrong.

Maybe when we find the right tribes, we find the right standards and we can just be ourselves.

3 Comments on “Comparison, tribes, and the right standard

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