Today, poolside in Ao Nang, Thailand, I opened a thoughtful email from an old friend. It got me thinking about one of the goals of this trip– to figure out my tribe.
My working definition of a tribe is a group of people who share like-minded personal aspirations. These people ACTIVELY support your growth, and you support theirs.
Not all friends and family are automatic members of your tribe. This is because of the key term ‘active’ as it relates to support.
Active vs Passive, Constructive vs Deconstructive
To explain active support, let’s borrow the concept of Active Constructive Responding conceived by psychologist Shelly Gable.
She theorized that close relationships grow closer and healthier when a person responds with enthusiastic support (an active constructive response) to positive news from their friend or partner.
Undesirable responses of generalized, understated support (passive constructive), minimization or demeaning of the news (active-destructive), or ignoring the news (passive-destructive) can weaken relationships and may lower the well-being of the person seeking support.
I’m Out, Y’all
When you tell people you are quitting your job to take your first solo trip to Southeast Asia for 2 months, with no plan to resume doctoring or other work for several months upon your return, you get the following responses:
1. OMG, that’s amazing! (Big smile). I/my friend did something similar, do you want to chat with them about what they did or to get trip recommendations? I’d be happy to connect you guys. [Active, constructive response]
2. (Nanosecond pause). OMG, that’s amazing! (widened eyes, raised eyebrows). (Awkward silence). I usually fill this part in with the backstory. [Passive, constructive response]
3. Wow! Uh, are you sure you really want to do that? You know, because, uh, you worked for such a longggggggg time to become a doctor. That’s really dangerous. You have to very careful out there. [Active, destructive response]
4. Oh cool, I’m headed to Zimbabwe in 2 weeks, do you know anyone who has been there? [Passive destructive response]
Now, none of these responses are horrible. I didn’t receive any passive destructive ignoring of my news.
The first response of pure, unbridled enthusiasm with an offer to help is ideal! The active destructive response is often well-meaning but deflating.
The passive destructive response is kinda shitty and just plain self-centered.
Friends and family who give the second and third responses mean well and frequently want the best outcome. But for reasons which likely do not have anything to do with me, they chose to or aren’t able to provide the kind of support that fosters progress.
The safety warnings were somewhat expected, yet those who know me know my (generally) risk-averse nature. Except for a handful of less-than-stellar decisions influenced by inebriation in my younger days, I’ve led a pretty careful life.
The advice to ‘Be Careful’ is too generalized to be helpful compared to more specific aid about newbie solo travel or SE Asia travel, etc.
And why are people so afraid of unknown, far away, “scary” places? It’s ridiculous and a bit xenophobic. Okay, I’ll stop ranting.
Who belongs to the tribe then?
Your tribe members are your people who are the active-constructive responders. Not the ‘Yes men/women’ either, because they fall into the passive constructive category of bland, unhelpful praise.
Collect friends, mentors, and partners who constructively criticize your plans and ideas while offering suggestions that aid your progress.
Where does that leave everyone else?
Having people around who have known you for ages is worthwhile because they can serve as barometers of how you have changed.
However, these may not be tribe members off of which you can bounce your ideas or with whom you can celebrate your successes.
Not every friend or romantic partner has to fulfill every role. The point of having several friends, a mentor, close family, etc is that each person plays their specific part in your life, at least in an ideal situation.
I’m not where I want to be in my life. But I didn’t get this far along my path because of people who criticized my ignorance or enabled my personal handicaps (versions of active destructive responses)..
The openness, generosity, and patience of those who led by example was the catalyst for my personal change. They are members of my tribe in my head or in my reality.
While forging ahead on this arduous journey called life, be supportive and generous of spirit to those behind you and ahead of you.
And find your tribe.