Are You My Tribe?

Photo by Hakon Halberg on Unsplash

Photo by Hakon Halberg on Unsplash


Are you familiar with the children’s book “Are You My Mother?” by author and illustrator P.D. Eastman? It’s the story of a little hatchling who arrives while his mother is away in search of food. Mishap ensues, and baby bird falls from the nest to begin a somewhat frightening adventure in search of his mother.

He walks along asking the same question of animals he meets—a dog, a cow, and a chicken—"Are you my mother?” He even asks objects including an old car and a boat. With each contact, it becomes clearer to the little bird that these are not his mother, and he becomes more distressed in his aloneness.

Finally, the hatchling confronts a steam shovel—massive and threatening—and he asks his question again. The shovel replies, “Snort” and the bird freaks out, calling for his mother. The shovel gently places him in the nest, at which point his mother does appear and all ends well…except for the trauma for baby bird the rest of his feathered life.

My takeaway when I read this story as a kid was that the constant search for tribe is part of the human condition, voyaging to find “mother-ship” of people to whom we feel connection. And as I think about tribe hunting, it seems we are searching all our life. 


For most of us, the first tribe is our family. This is the initial group that teaches us about how tribes work. We learn the value of shared interests and shared history, and form bonds and responsibilities with one another.

As we mature, we extend beyond immediate relatives to the newfound friendships of others. We attend school and join groups where we find connections, people we feel comfortable with and who share our interests. Then further out, we work and delve into professional activities that create acquaintances and colleagues. In all of this, we are always in a state of identifying the members of our tribe.

Tribes give us a sense of belonging and the opportunity to provide empathy and care to others—improving our sense wellbeing by highlighting our bonds to a larger unit.

We prefer to travel in tribes for survival of the species (away from the pack puts us at risk) and because feelings of loneliness can harm our physical and mental health. Saul Levine M.D. highlights the impact of loneliness in his piece “Belonging Is Our Blessing, Tribalism Is Our Burden.”

However, as Saul points out, the flip side to forming tribes occurs when we engage in tribalism. The mob-like mentality of this state distorts our view of others we perceive as “outside” our tribe, and thus weakens our sense of benevolence toward others. The irony is that while we seek to be part of tribes, once in them we sort of work to distance ourselves from others.  

It is a human thing—a need gone amok that we have to watch for in our thinking. In Zaid Dahhaj’s piece “Why Toxic Tribalism Is Destroying Our Society & What To Do About It,” he explains why we are all susceptible and identifies signals to watch for when our tribal tendencies are headed for extremes.  Unfortunately, these days, we are all too aware of how tribalism is playing out in our society, and our need to be alert.


At this point I’d like to reclaim tribe for the good that it can produce and circle back to the hatchling mentioned at the beginning. So—stay with me here—I refer to the hatchling of my story as the Remembered Poetry Slam event I launched in November of 2018, and how in analyzing its lack of success I realized that I’d missed answering the question, “Who is my tribe (aka mother)?” 

The concept of Remembered Poetry Slam seemed perfect and straightforward to me. Invite people to share poems they remembered learning at some point, and they’d gladly recite them for a video and upload them to our Facebook page. All of this done in an effort to win a prize of a donation for the Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.  

I sent out posts and invitations via Facebook explaining how the contest worked to a rather small group, which was not actually the Poetry Slam tribe.Later, I also reached out to poetry and literary groups on Meetup, invited key Facebook friends to share the invitations with their groups, and the biggest lift came from the Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association who shared it with their group and created a fabulous video.

The idea flew but not as big as I had hoped. With special thanks to my friends Nancy Barnett, Kelly Boon and niece Sarah, there were some lovely submissions, but the splash was not there.


I am not daunted by this. Events take time to become a “thing,” and I believe I missed the mark on helping to create an experience for possible poetry slam competitors, and most importantly I did not identify the somewhat gregarious poetry/theatrical spirited loving tribe.

I’m going to work to find that tribe in 2019 before Thanksgiving. At this point I’d like to mention Deb Brown, who knows a thing or two about helping small towns launch events. She explained how important it is to not just have an idea but to do some research and planning in advance to prepare by finding the groups who will be interested and creating an experience.

So, the question for you if you’re still reading are:  

1.      Who do you think might be potential tribe members of a Remembered Poetry Slam?  

a.       Theater groups?

b.      Poetry groups?

c.       Literary groups?

2.      How do I make sharing in the event worth their time?

3.      Should I host a local slam spot as well as connecting via social media?

At this point I’m brainstorming but in my own head. I need to figure out if there is a tribe, if I’m able to harness it, and if I should pursue Remembered Poetry Slam 2019. Ideas? Share them and thanks!


Sherry is the founder of Storied Gifts a personal publishing service of family and company histories. She and her team help clients curate and craft their stories into books. When not writing or interviewing, Sherry spends loads of time with her grandchildren and lives in Des Moines, Iowa.


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