Time for Tribe

Illustration Credit: Totem by Laura Berger

We are a tribe of 21 people mostly born in the 1940s–50s. We share specific values, hold each other as a priority, and formally commit to one another. “Bicycle distance” is our metaphor for living close enough to meet face-to-face with weekly consistency.

Here’s how to start your tribe.

A tribe starts with one person. It begins when the “champion” talks with friends she or he has come to trust over the years about intentional friendship.

After enough conversation, there comes a time to formalize the acceptance of an invitation. In our case, Bill invited Zoe and presented her with a written document to formalize her intention. Upon completing and signing her “Testament of Intent” she dramatically presented Bill with the same opportunity. This created a movement from thought to action and established a base for expansion. Now we could reach out and present the shared vision, values, and essential structure to one person or one couple at a time.

Some friends liked what we offered and accepted our lead. A small core group of men and women formed. Beginning with a commitment of three years we called this our family of choice. Next, we invited four trusted friends as “initiates” into a 15-hour training over five weeks, every Tuesday, to learn to feel safe and build trust. Here we shared in depth our values and structure, a practical conflict resolution process, and a way for men, women, and those of gender fluidity to be together in deep safety.

Everything we do is by invitation and with mutual respect. Our ceremonies and rituals are fun and often surprise people. Arriving the first day, they come up our steps to find two of us greeting them with a feathered fan spreading sweet smoke around them in a special, heartfelt welcome. They are asked to enter in silence past a transparent silver cloth, and are greeted with music.

We create a safe space for initiates to consciously practice intimacy skills. In one process we like, we invite each person to take the time to be with each other person, one at a time, and, looking eye to eye, one says, “I am here to be seen.” And the other responds from the heart, “I see you.”

The training is an experiential orientation where participants begin to find their own place in the tribe. They learn our values of living near each other and staying put, meeting face-to-face every week, experiencing long-term commitment, realizing the deep importance of gender safety in our tribe, learning how to resolve conflict in a safe way, and seeing how the membership sequence unfolds.

The “tribe training” brings everyone onto the same page as to who we are, what we believe, and how we function. At the end of the training they are “initiated” into the tribe as provisional members for three months to a year. It’s a bonding time of mutual observation, and when they are ready each creates his or her initiation ceremony into full membership and may then sponsor trusted friends as possible members.

Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, offers a most useful distinction as he identifies “bridging and bonding” groups. Bridging groups focus outward and include different types of people in order to be of service to them in some way. Bonding groups are people of like mind, focused inward, working together with the intention of personal growth and evolution. Our tribe is a bonding group; therefore, we carefully choose whom we invite. We find that once people have a safe place to grow and thrive they naturally “bridge” out in service to others.

As founders we designed our roles to move from leaders to cocreative equals. Thus, once our group was of adequate size and competence, the members felt ready and released us as founders. In a wonderful, “derolling” ceremony, the first dozen or so stepped up to be more fully responsible for the cocreative tribe process, and we as founders no longer had to hold so much responsibility.

Now as peers we are wrestling with how to make challenging group decisions in a good way. We have been exploring a NVC/Sociocacy Consent Decision-Making model. With each new challenge we are enjoying the dynamic process of building the plane as we fly it.

When one of our members was informed after a routine physical that he needed immediate open-heart surgery, the tribe sprang into action. His wife was away for the weekend, so men stayed with him the night before surgery. In the morning, others joined his wife at the hospital, and a large portion of the tribe adjusted their schedules to hold a song circle—singing until the surgery was complete. The surgery took half the time expected. Once he was home, we regaled him with more song and his recovery was remarkable. The biggest challenge was to not make him laugh too much.

Our Commitments Reflect Our Values:

  1. To Place: we choose to stay put, to not move on
  2. To Each Other: seasoned friends growing together
  3. To Gender Safety: clear bound-aries and transparency
  4. To Personal Integrity: we’re accountable and we tell the truth
  5. To Long-Term Intention: we imagine a lifetime together
  6. To Celebrate Relationship with Divine Presence: spirit
  7. To Cultural Cocreation: action toward sustainability

Bill Kauth cofounded The ManKind Project in 1984, is the author of A Circle of Men, and has launched literally thousands of self-help groups. Zoe Alowan is an artist, and together they have written We Need Each Other and Toolbox for Tribe: How to Build Your Own Community.

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