Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)
In 1994, over eight hundred thousand people were slaughtered in Rwanda. Members of the Tutsi tribe, together with those who sympathized with them, were brutally killed by members of the Hutu ethnic majority. Genocide has long been a part of our world’s troubling story, but what made this incident particularly heart-wrenching was that these killings took place at the hands of neighbours, relatives, and friends. Like something out of a horror movie, the government incited people to kill each other—and they responded while everyone watched.
In the ancient world, tribes served an important function. Holding fast to the safety and security of a group meant the difference between life and death. Animals roam in packs to this day. In some ways we do too, finding safety and meaning in our identification with ethnicity, religion, political party, and favourite sports teams. Modern governance has us organized by country, state, city, and town, and within and across those boundaries we create tribes—uptown versus downtown, north versus south, black versus white, urban versus rural. Much of this is human—shared experience and finding meaning in group distinction. Our anthropological DNA wants to preserve history, cultivate cultural pride, and seek connection with others.
The problem with DNA, however, is that it manifests in all sorts of unpredictable ways. Its invisible depths can give birth to diseases of mind and body that we didn’t know were lying in wait to cripple us and stop us from reaching our full potential. Our tendency toward tribalism is like that—we can’t see it, but it is there preventing us from connecting with people who we perceive to be outside of our tribes—people who can help us, love us, and support us.