The tribal mindset and America’s pastime | VailDaily.com
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The tribal mindset and America’s pastime

Jeffrey Bergeron

Jane walked out of the room and Erin and I just sat there – dumbfounded. It was as if both of us had difficulty processing what we just heard her say.Erin said incredulously, “Did she just say what I thought she just said?” Erin then added: “I can’t believe it, she seemed so nice.” Jane indeed seemed nice – and kind, and generous. She came on a show -which I hosted and Erin directed – to promote an event raising awareness and funds for cancer research. Her position was unpaid; she gave of her time and energy to promote a cause in which she believed. That being said, her parting remark, issued after the cameras stopped rolling, was one I would not expect out of someone so educated and well-spoken as she.After thanking me for the exposure and support, almost as an afterthought, she said, “Too bad about the Red Sox not signing Johnny Damon, we have him now and he’ll make a perfect lead-off batter.” Johnny Damon was a star player who defected from the Boston Red Sox to play for our arch rivals.Watching her leave the room, Erin and I sat there with our mouths open: This woman we had come to like was a New York Yankee fan. Erin said it again, “She seemed so nice.”For those of us who grew up in the North East – I’m from the South Shore of Boston, Erin from New Hampshire – it wasn’t enough to like the Red Sox; you also had to hate the Yankees. I don’t think that loathing was as much the case for Yankee fans; for decades they’ve had pennant winning teams while Boston has won only one World Series in 86 years.That being acknowledged, much of our resentment stems from an inferiority complex. Yankee rivalry aside, I do find it interesting that otherwise normal and rational people develop intense tribal loyalty in terms of not just sports teams but also nationalistic and religious prejudices that defy logic.Watching the Olympics, I found myself cheering for anyone who was an American – even if they behaved like jerks. In truth, many of the competitors from other nations had superior performances, better attitudes and more compelling stories. Also telling was my – and, it seemed, the American media’s – new found sympathies for athletes from the former Soviet Union. Back in the days of the “cold war,” feelings for Russian and East German athletes were less then sportsmanlike. (It was as if they were New York Yankees on steroids and with accents.) Back then it didn’t immediately dawn on many that they were just athletes competing in a sport they loved and were gifted at and had no control over what country they were born in. I, too, was unable to separate the competitor from their birthplace and country’s politics. I was as blind to the qualities of the “Commie” athletes as I am to the flavor of Manhattan clam chowder when compared to the New England version.Now, obviously, I’m writing of my distaste for all things Yankee very much with tongue in cheek. I have a lot of New York friends, and only one of them has human heads in his refrigerator. In fact, the only difference between the Boston and New York organizations, the athletes and fans is that the Yankees have won countless world titles, while the Sox have won only one. Though it can be fun to enjoy a healthy rivalry between cities and teams, it doesn’t stop there. Since the beginning of recorded history, allegiances have been formed on the basis of geographical, political and religious sameness. This polarization has, if anything, increased.I guess it is just human nature, but I still find myself subconsciously placing a greater value on the condition of my own tribe than I do on the condition of others. After hearing a news report of a tragic natural disaster or accident where many are killed or injured, I feel a sense of relief when I learn it took place on foreign soil in a distant land. How often do you hear a newscaster saying something like “400 died in a deadly plane crash in some distant location,” and then to add gravity to the tragedy add, “10 of those killed were American” as if that made the tragedy that more tragic.To assume an “Us vs. Them” philosophy seems to be a natural human inclination. Perhaps it’ a throwback to a tribal mindset, when security came from your affiliation with a clan. Or perhaps it’s our instinct to fear what we don’t understand. It seems almost too obvious to say we all need to look past geopolitical realities and assume that most humans have similar needs, wants and values. We are not American, Iraqi, French, Mexican, Christian, Jew or Muslim; we are members of the human tribe. Even Yankee fans.Jeffrey Bergeron under the alias of Biff America can be seen on RSN, heard on KOA radio, and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at biffbreck@yahoo.com.Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or at Backcountrymagazine.com.Vail, Colorado


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