The Siren’s Call of Tribalism

Posted by David Bowles on Monday, January 29, 2018

Accentuating the Positive in Times of Strife


“Hope has two daughters. Their names are anger and courage;
anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not
remain the way they are.”    

                                                                                   – St. Augustine


imagesSome amongst our customers have expressed umbrage over the sign Janet posted in our window last year. We have received letters telling us they (self-proclaimed regular customers) won’t be back until the sign is taken down. Events have been canceled. Strange times…

I often say that few wonderful things have been accomplished by filling rooms with people who agree with each other. All the magic of life truly occurs when and how we come together in context of our differences. In times of such polarization it is incumbent on us to resist the urge to flock to our sympathies but, instead, to lean into our antipathies – and strive for empathy. To those longstanding customers (and friends) who have elected to boycott us because of Janet’s sign, I beseech you to take up this challenge. And to those customers of ours who would rally against those who are so offended by the sign that they would deprive themselves of the best restaurant in Washington County, I suggest that you have a little compassion, for the sake of their loss and suffering.

According to Thomas Cahill, author of “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” Augustine of Hippo was the last classical, and perhaps first medieval man. In his book “Confessions” Augustine rings in the Age of Individual Consciousness by referring to himself with the word “I” as we use it today for the first time in written history. As Cahill puts it, “No one had ever talked this way before. If we page quickly through world literature from its beginnings to the advent of Augustine, we realize that with Augustine human consciousness takes a quantum leap forward—and becomes self-consciousness. Here for the first time is a man consistently observing himself not as Man but as this singular man—Augustine.” Of course, this impulse – the “I Am” – was to be crushed into the Dark Ages for 1200 years or so after Augustine’s passing, reemerging with the Renaissance and the advent of Division of Labor, but I digress.

In my view, the war we wage today is truly between the ancient forces of Tribe versus the nascent age of Individualism. Oh how weary we have become as we hack our way into the frontier of “I”. And what a warm bath it was for so many as they flocked into the bosom of tribe after 9/11. Flag decals appeared everywhere. United WE Stand was the slogan of the day. The forces of Tribe carried the day then, and have continued to prevail today as our personal liberties are being eroded, identity politics is the coin of the realm and battles rage between the Tribe of Right and the Tribe of Left. Truth brings little bear on the opinions of tribal warriors if it is not the message of their brand.

Nothing in the sign Janet posted is untrue for us, nor for the vast majority of our neighbors, Democrats and Republicans alike. I was opposed to the sign when Janet posted it, not for its message, but because it felt tribal. Over the years we have owned this restaurant I have often referred to Janet as a “Chicago-Irish-Democrat-Alpha-Female-Chef” and have challenged anybody who would listen to try to tell her what to do. Janet collected the sign when she attended a gathering at a Spanish-speaking church last February that was arranged after a group of street preachers harassed Hispanic church goers, hurling racist slurs, referring to their immigration status. Janet, as Augustine suggested, was angry at the way things are so she – and about 200 others that day – demonstrated the courage to see that they did not stay that way. And so the sign remains.

oaktreeWhen the Swedish oncologist Dr Karl-Henrik Robèrt formed The Natural Step over 25 years ago he used as one of his teaching tools the image of an oak tree. He indicated that, as individuals, we are like the leaves at the end of the branches. As the wind blows and the sun shines we flutter and shimmer; seemingly we occur only in context of our differences. When there are conversations to be held, decisions to make and actions to take we must travel from the twigs into the branches until we find our shared values. There, with that which we hold in common serving as touchstones, we come together and find our way. Sometimes, when the differences seem great and the issues most difficult, we must travel all the way to the trunk of that tree of humanity. 

There are important shared core values by and among those of us that disagree strongly about the actions necessary to correct the trajectory of our social life. Let’s keep those values within reach to use as touchstones. We all carry a piece of the truth, and if we are able to maintain an environment imbued with warmth, trust and respect we can leave any conversation with a truth larger than the one we brought to it.


Categories: Restaurant News

19 Responses to “The Siren’s Call of TribalismComment RSS feed

  • Venis Taherizadegan
    February 12th, 2018 12:23 pm

    I LOVE the sign, do you know where I can get one for my salon?
    It’s time that we the people figure out there are no longer 2 (or more) parties. Politicians have simply used Caesars favorite tactic of divide and conquer on us, and we have fallen for it.

  • Wendy Russell
    February 12th, 2018 11:33 am

    Thank you for posting the sign. Those are core values I, too, stand behind. We will be back in again soon!

  • Simon Bennett
    January 31st, 2018 6:21 pm

    Thanks for this. Elisa and I will visit soon. It’s been too long. And I hope to meet someone from another tribe, to break bread and discuss our different outlooks and opinions. Butterscotch puddings on me, regardless of their opinions. I love my neighborhood here in Bethany. We need to be a shining light for the rest of America and show them how it’s done. From retiree Trump supporters all the way to immigrants in their first ever homes – we *can* get along – I just know it in my heart – thanks for opening your doors and nourishing all of us. Cheers!

    • David Bowles
      January 31st, 2018 6:45 pm
      Author's Reply

      What a great comment. Thanks!

  • Cheryl
    January 30th, 2018 4:31 pm

    Frankly, I’m surprised that there are folks living in the Bethany area that would be offended enough by this sign that they would “cut off their nose in spite of their face,” but I appreciate that it stirred you to write such a great response.

  • Barbara
    January 29th, 2018 10:41 pm

    We come for the fabulous food!

    • Karen
      January 31st, 2018 11:55 pm

      Yes we do

  • Anne Moore
    January 29th, 2018 8:26 pm

    I’m a Nasty woman (who gets shit done!) and did not know about your business. But I will be joining you for great food and ideals soon–and spreading the word! THANKS!

    • David Bowles
      January 29th, 2018 8:27 pm
      Author's Reply

      I LOVE how you talk!

  • Diane
    January 29th, 2018 5:51 pm

    Proud to be your neighbor!

    • David Bowles
      January 29th, 2018 8:28 pm
      Author's Reply

      Thank you Diane. It means a lot.

  • Ericka
    January 29th, 2018 5:40 pm

    Thank you for displaying the sign! It makes me sad that some would take an issue to treating others with respect and value. I will be eating there more often.

    • David Bowles
      January 29th, 2018 8:51 pm
      Author's Reply

      You’re welcome Ericka. For those who are upset I feel it’s one of two things: 1) The words don’t matter, they see it as a tribal badge and it makes ‘em mad, or 2) One or two of the messages on the sign is highly offensive to them. “Women are in charge of their bodies” evokes strong, heartfelt feelings wrapped up in the sanctity of human life and they are so upset. In making a case for empathy, which seems to be running in short supply, one must bring empathy to the table and offer it to that person with whom you most disagree. It’s hard though when folks just want to be mad, though we all feel that way some times. That’s when butterscotch pudding comes in most handy.

  • Susan Morris
    January 29th, 2018 5:23 pm

    I admire your courage!
    Thank you.
    You represent all that is good and right at this tumultuous time.
    Hold fast!
    Susan and Tom Morris

  • Christa
    January 29th, 2018 4:55 pm

    Thank you for posting the sign! It makes me want to eat here even more now. Your our go to date night place.

  • Dawn Nelson
    January 29th, 2018 4:51 pm

    This just makes me sad. I am so happy to see a smattering of signs in the Bethany area, and the one at Bethany’s table is no exception. I haven’t eaten there in awhile and I will plan to do so this week in support of Janet and the restaurant. The sign to me basically represents The Golden Rule and it saddens me that some of my neighbors feel that the rights of others don’t matter.

  • Molly Lee
    January 29th, 2018 4:25 pm

    I’m glad you have the sign up and I’m sorry there are some in your community who see it as divisive. I see it as anything but, a symbol that all are welcome and that common sense reigns. Thanks!

  • Anonymous
    January 29th, 2018 4:16 pm

    Happy you are displaying this sign, standing up for these values. I can’t afford to eat out much, and would surely come to your place because of the sign.

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