How do we find the right kind of people with whom to form a band? The first question looming large in my mind is “who.” Who is it that I am searching for? Who is my true kin? I recently realized that I was suffering from believism: the viral meme that insists that beliefs and ideas are what really matters, and “by their beliefs ye shall know them.” When I reflected on where to turn to find my kind of people, I kept coming up with various worldview groups. The desire to be with others of like belief is a powerful thing. How often have we exclaimed in relief – finally I have found people who think like me! What joy. (Until we find they really don’t.)
After another such encounter – hoping to be altered by a face-to-face meeting with someone who was an excellent belief match, and did not pan out in real life – and after seeing how people of like beliefs end up fighting with one another over magnified molehills, I figured it was time to scrap this whole template of searching via beliefs and start over.
It seems to me that people flock together basically in the following ways:
- because they like the company (e.g. I always get along with cousin Emma, we have good chemistry between us)
- because they share passions, interests or projects (e.g. beekeepers)
- because they share beliefs, worldviews (e.g. Catholics)
- because they share a lifeway, a local culture (e.g. the Highland Scots)
- because they share value-laden preferences (e.g. participatory, peer-based communication)
- because they share an inspiring vision (e.g. peace)
Any and all of these reasons are compelling. They do work to bring about mutual enjoyment and a bond. They all provide motivation to spend time in the other person’s company, and explore further. What I am about to argue is that they are not enough. They are not enough to form long-term tight relationships, the kind of bonds that are needed to forge together a viable tribal group that has both cohesiveness and durability.
Any of them alone will likely lead to disappointment in the search for a good band-mate. What is missing? The missing part has to do with integrity. It has to do with the ability to work through conflict. It has to do with a whole slew of phenomena that perhaps can all be lumped into ‘trustworthiness.’ If another person knows how to navigate the perils of a heated discussion without getting nasty, I can trust them. If they know how to give me critical feedback without biting my head off when I screw up, I can trust them. If they are able to offer empathy in response to my grief or anger, I can trust them. If they do their damnedest to be honest and straightforward, I can trust them.
All too often, we offer solidarity on the basis of ideas, and forget to reserve our loyalty based on that other piece of the puzzle: character. On who this person really is in the world. What sort of story are they enacting among their own? How do they behave, how do they treat living beings? For example, if a person shares my beliefs to a tee, yet they are a habitual blamer, take their frustrations out on other people, and are driven by the need to be always right, all the good ideas, shared interests and other similarities are not going to prevent ongoing damage or save the relationship in the long run.
True community must be based on both trust and common outlook. If the trust isn’t there, no shared-belief magic will fill the hole. I am willing to extend this further and claim that when it comes to forging alliances with people, trustworthiness must take precedence over ideas. If the person or group is trustworthy and treats you right, even if some of their ideas are weird or unpalatable, it makes sense to favor them over people whose ideas are right on but who cannot be trusted. Ideally, we want both in a small band community; but when choosing wider allies, I say choose trust over like-mindedness.
Besides, think of a geek with poor social skills who does not know how to treat people well. What is easier for this person to change: behavior, or beliefs? Bingo. People readily learn to adapt their belief systems. But ego trippers or chronic quarrelers usually remain so across worldviews. As Diana Leafe Christian writes in Creating a Life Together, many an intentional community has come to grief over the ill-considered acceptance of the untrustworthy.
Trust is the unifying force we have been looking for. It goes past the games people play with ideas and language. Trust is the ageless glue that used to hold communities together in former days. Ideals and passions unite today and often fragment tomorrow. Shared trust unites us for the long, winding road ahead.