We see daily evidence that our society is forming into intractable ideological groups, segregating us from differently minded people at every turn. This unsettling form of tribalism is the focus of a new book by global diversity and inclusion expert Howard Ross, Our Search for Belonging: How Our Need to Connect Is Tearing Us Apart. It’s a fascinating look at how how our human need to belong is creating increasing division in our world.
Tribalism is based on a paradox: as humans, we need to belong, but that causes deep divides as well as connections. Tribes that form out of fear of the “other,” whether race, immigration status, religion, or partisan politics, function from an “us versus them” attitude. And as we seclude ourselves within our tribes, we’re more separated geographically, socioeconomically and educationally than ever before.
Ross draws on his decades as a leadership expert to explore the forces driving this segregation within society, individuals, and organizations. He examines the role of social media, which has made it even easier to dwell in our own bubbles and choose to only receive information and news from sources we already agree with. Lines are sharply, at times dangerously drawn: witness the debate over gun control, in which one side demonizes the other. As we hold firm to our perspectives and declare them sacred and absolute, we create a fractious reality, and a political climate that renders compromise or cooperation nearly impossible — threatening our very democracy.
But this is more than a sophisticated critique: Our Search for Belonging is also guidebook for how to leave tribalism behind, and achieve safe and honest dialogue. If diversity is the key to innovation, it can’t be achieved without effective tactics to break out of our own self-defined groups. Ross offers an array of strategies for reaching a more fertile kind of consensus, such as intentionally learning about the differences in other points of view, and looking for the moral foundations and values that formed them. He uses the examples of some well-known organizations, such as Target and Kaiser Permanente, that have worked successfully to achieve common ground.
“Rather than seeing our differences as points of view on issues, we now see our view as truth and as something that is morally right,” he writes, underscoring his argument that it’s imperative that we build bridges across our differences, before it’s too late. The book is a masterful look at the societal divides and how to overcome them, and it’s a powerful statement of hope in a disquieting time.
Learn more at the author’s website.