What Hurricane Harvey Shows Us: Our Need for Tribe


I came across the pictured headline in my Facebook feed: “People lining up in Houston not for food, water or shelter, but to volunteer.”

Immediately Sebastian Junger’s book “Tribe” came to mind.

Although our modern affluent societies leave us comfortable and (mostly) protected from danger, we are starved of a role in our tribe. We come from primal roots where you were a vital to the entire tribe. But fast forward to modern times; the bigger the city the colder we become. The higher suicide and depression rates rise.

The less you're needed. And the less you matter.

On the flip side, ironically, it’s during times of great distress and hardship that we humans come alive. Human connection is re-fused. Your actions are vital. Your spirit is lifted into action.

In the book, Junger writes about the Blitz of 1940-41 where London was hammered relentlessly by German bombers. Millions died. Although you’d imagine this came with depression of the people, the complete opposite happened; mental health IMPROVED. Admissions to psychiatric wards went down. Psychiatrists watched their patients’ symptoms subside during intense air raids. Suicide rates dropped.

It’s because during this time they became USEFUL. They contributed. They mattered.

From “Tribe”:

It’s about why - for many people - war feels better than peace and hardship can turn out to be a great blessing and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations.

Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.

It’s time for that to end.


So you can see why that volunteer line was so long. When your city is under water the playing field is leveled. All the bullshit is gone. Walls come down, and all that’s left is real people and real human touch. Someone needs your help and you WANT to help.

It’s sad that it takes a horrible disaster that nobody would ever ask for, for us to come alive like this - the silver lining of extreme hardship. Equally unfortunate (and confusing) is that human tribe and connection is gone again once the disaster or wartime passes.

It seems we modern humans suffer a cruel fate: we suffer when we prosper, and prosper when we suffer.

As Junger saw spray-painted on a wall in Bosnia after the war was over about the loss of social solidarity: “It was better when it was really bad.”

I feel inspired by the people of Hurricane Harvey, and here's to continued connection when things are going good.


Check out the links below:

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
> View in Amazon




Watch Sebastian Junger talk "Tribe" on the Joe Rogan Experience:

Greg NewtonComment