Tribes are defined by their impulses and they grow stronger by weakening and punishing those they identify as opponents They mock courtesy and they ignore attempts to compromise

A Courtesy Call

July 12, 2016
We identify as members of communities but without courtesy and compromise we function as tribes. Knowing the customs Straining “community” Can civilization survive?

Earlier this spring, at the AFS Metalcasting Congress, I spent several hours trying to arrange some time with a colleague and friend who was over-scheduled. Too many sessions and meetings for him, and we never managed more than a friendly greeting.

The first time I attended a metalcasting industry event I had a lot to learn, about processes and issues, about customs and trends, and about organizations and people who are engaged in all this, professionally and personally. I still have much to learn, but happily I feel welcomed and involved, and able to conduct myself as something more than an outsider at these events. You might say I am a member of the metalcasting community.

Even so, there are certain aspects of the metalcasting community that are more selective: at AFS gatherings, committees and panels that form to address various topics or indulge particular interests will hive themselves off from the rest of us to meet, discuss, plan, etc. If someone that I want to meet is scheduled to attend the ABC luncheon or the XYZ session, they can cancel an appointment with me, and no insult should be implied. Whatever my status in the community may be, there is a higher loyalty or priority given to these more selective or exclusive colloquia.

There is nothing unusual about this, and nothing unseemly. All of us are regularly and voluntarily reaffirming our commitment to this community, and we accept the terms of membership. Our involvement is multi-lateral, and serves numerous purposes for us. We don’t engage in arguments without good cause, and we make allowances for others’ problems or limitations. Civility demands courtesy and compromise.

As a member of a community, you cannot simply arrive and make demands. Even after you’ve committed yourself to the community, you cannot simply state your demands and draw support, or reward. You must reaffirm your commitment by your effort, and you must acknowledge and engage the interests and views of other community members.

But, in the larger civilization in which all of us live, the term “community” has been stretched beyond any practical definition. In fact, community is more likely to be used to describe violent protestors than average citizens who devote their work and resources to a profession, a society, a neighborhood, or a faith group. Courtesy now seems quaint, and compromise is a slur.

We may yet retain the physical evidence of a civilization — laws, regulations, etc. — but it seems even those are referenced and upheld only when it serves the interest of those with the influence to make it so. Today, our civilization is comprised of many more tribes than communities. Communities are defined by their members’ shared commitments, and they nurture and develop their resources, growing by attracting willing members.

Tribes are defined by the appetites of their most passionate members, and they gain strength by weakening and punishing those they identify as their opponents. They grow by intimidating the unaware or the unprepared, and they vilify anyone who objects or contradicts their singular position. They mock courtesy, and they ignore attempts to compromise.

It seems obvious how all this applies today in the context of a presidential campaign, but the problem runs much deeper. Note how the metalcasting community and other businesses interests have dutifully worked to address and manage the problem of airborne crystalline silica, but how such efforts and good intentions have meant nothing to the agenda of the opposing tribe determined to use the authority of law to punish ideological opponents.

The ideological activism engaged in by federal agencies like OSHA, EPA, and NLRB over the past decade have helped propagate the sense that some tribes are more powerful, more preeminent than other tribes. And now, with the tribal atmosphere out in the open during campaign season, we are advised that there is no more time or space for courtesy and compromise. If you are not committed to one side, I’m told daily, you are ensuring the other side will win. 

The foundations of courtesy and compromise are good character, and without people of good character a community (indeed, a civilization) cannot last. It may be past hope to expect good character to emerge in time to save all that seems at risk today, but if we restrain ourselves from tribal impulses we may at least have the examples on which to rebuild.

About the Author

Robert Brooks | Content Director

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)