Crazy how much the closing statement of an article can make me think so much about “tribe,” labels, and branding.
In Rachel Toor’s December Running Times column, she compares the “excessive celebrations” of football to the ways runners display their accomplishments. It inevitably comes around to the way runners sometimes celebrate themselves (and their feats) on social media, or by putting a 13.1 or 26.2 sticker on their car, or by wearing their medal or race shirt around. She ends the article saying she misses the subtlety of an old giant Timex Ironman watch she used to wear, because it identified her to the tribe of runner without being so “in your face” about it (now she uses her phone and a Garmin instead).
Tribe. What a perfect way to put it.
There are many tribes to which we can choose to identify ourselves with – the type of exercise you do, what you eat, what you drink, if you have kids or not, if you have pets or not, the types of activities you do (or don’t do), your religion… you get the idea. But! How do we identify ourselves to these tribes, and… do we want to?
Like Toor, I personally prefer subtlety in my tribe identification. Ha ha, funny I say that, since I have the tribe of running permanently inked on my back, but that is not going to be visible that often. I like the tribe reveal to be more organic, like a few weeks ago, when wearing an old pair of running shoes (to change out of, obvs) to a meeting caused a contractor to ask me what I think of those shoes, and ask me about running.
Subtlety (actually, privacy) is something I’ve started to prefer over the last few years, really, as social media has expanded. It’s blatant that people are making assumptions about me based on what I put out there (and how they interpret it), so I really don’t put much of critical substance in the interwebs.
And that is the risk with tribe identification, and why I avoid being identified as part of some of the tribes I could. We identify in the first place, because it makes us feel good to belong. It feels good to be part of a group. It feels good to say, “I did that!” or “I don’t do that!” or “I made that!” or “I drink that!” or “I believe that!” or whatever. And have people relate.
And it gives you power. By claiming a tribe, you are taking control over your identification/personal branding. But you are also giving power to other people, to make assumptions about you, based on what they already think about that tribe. Confusing, right? So do you claim or tribe, or not?
Not that we should give a crap about other people’s assumptions. But, it may still make you think twice about which tribes you identify with! That is why I avoid the tribe of vegan. I don’t go out of my way to tell people I am vegan. Vegans have a pretty negative connotation, and I can totally see why. A lot of them that I’ve met have been judgmental a-holes. Which is a shame, because “vegan” can be a really useful label to use, when trying to explain your dietary preferences. Too bad it’s so damn loaded of a word.
Now that you’ve read this far (if you made it through the blabbering), you can probably think of some tribe identification you have seen in other people. I see it A LOT. And unfortunately, some of it is people forcing themselves to do things to identify with that tribe, despite not liking it, or preferring it. I see this a lot in the health and fitness arena, and honestly, it concerns me. People who really want to do a certain exercise, because they want to be seen as someone who does that… despite hating the exercise. Or people who follow a certain diet, and struggle with it, but want to be seen as “healthy.” I am sure you’ve seen it to.
I encourage everyone to follow what Torr said in her column - ”We each get to figure out how much cheering we require and get it where we can.” Do what you need. Identify with the tribes you need to, how you want to. Post away on Facebook if you need to! Don’t, if you don’t like it. Share what you want. Keep things private. Whatever. Just don’t get too lost from the tribe of you! That’s the most important tribe with which to identify.