© Glendon Mellow, The Flying Trilobite

29. Finding a tribe

(Post 29 of 33 in my 16-hour shift for the Secular Student Alliance Blogathon.)

10:00 pm EDT

I am a citizen of the world. Diogenes of Sinope (412-323 BCE)

I first ran into Diogenes in elementary school. He was another example of people from history who apparently did one thing — told other people to eat cake, or guessed Livingston’s name, or let the Queen step on his coat. Diogenes was the guy who held up a lamp as he searched for an honest man. Just that, nothing else. Weird, but no weirder than the cake or the coat.

Over the years I kept running into Diogenes, who, like Socrates, turns out to have been a full-time smart ass. The point of the search for an honest man becomes clear when you realize that he told people what he was doing as he walked past them.

I assume he died of a broken nose.

The idea of being a citizen of the world has always had incredible appeal to me. So much grief comes from our evolved tendency to clump with those most like us. But like most evolved tendencies, we can’t just wish it away. It’s another gift from the Paleolithic, another non-negotiable part of being human. The trick is not to pretend we can kick the habit but to do it positively and well.

When I started college at UC Berkeley, I was immediately terrified by the prospect of disappearing into an ocean of 32,000 undergrads. Fortunately I had joined the Cal Band, which immediately became my defining tribe.

Kids who don’t have a defining identity will generally find one, and it might not be what you would have preferred. Parents should help their kids find groups and activities that give them an opportunity for “meaningful doing” with others — the key element of recent life satisfaction studies.

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