We are social creatures. Group dynamics are embedded in our DNA. Historically, as a species, we have functioned best when we found membership in groups of between 20-50 people.
A tribe. Social order as we know it has its roots at the tribal level. Most of our history was spent living in tribes, until some jackass decided he wanted “sit right here and put up a fence”, and agriculture was invented and our evolution as sentient beings took a decidedly different route.
But I digress, this isn’t a history lesson, instead a suggestion.
Might it be that our gym community now serves the function of a tribe? Might it be that when you join a Crossfit gym, you make a choice to involve yourself and be accountable to your coaches and training partners, because those bonds of commitment manifest relationships that are significantly important to our survival? Might it be that participation in this group and it’s shared activities are part of what give your life meaning and purpose?
I believe a large part of living a healthy lifestyle is our ability to create, foster and maintain healthy relationships with other people. At Crossfit Primal Energy, we call this “developing community” and it stands as a central theme of how we operate the gym and how we live our lives. The concept of a “neighborhood gym” is nowhere more obvious than in a well-run Crossfit box, and we make the effort to manifest this concept in reality every day.
Coaches and athletes develop relationships through shared struggle, through setting and achieving goals, challenges and success, workouts-of-the-day and real life. Though we are only together for a few hours during the week, we develop affinity for those around us, and all different kinds of connections begin to flourish. These connections establish our community. These interactions establish our TRIBE.
The connection between psychological health and membership in a “tribe” is well-documented. The connection between a “tribe” and the Crossfit community should not be difficult to understand. Perhaps most people won’t admit this, but finding a community to belong to is an important factor when they choose their gym, and few people will continue to train in a place where they don’t find acceptance or support.
Choosing to participate in a group can be daunting, because of the vulnerability and openness that are sometimes required. The desire for change and evolution can be stressful and scary, but having a group of people to commiserate with makes each day seems not-so-bad. We find accountability and friendship in these groups. We find challenges and support in these groups. We find encouragement and empathy in these groups. The interactions we share during a group class help keep us interested and invested in the goals we set for ourselves, and as we all work individually there is a sense of shared suffering that motivates us to KEEP GOING! This sense of purpose establishes and reinforces our TRIBE.
I recently read a great book about this topic, written by Sebastian Junger, called “Tribe”. His investigation and research focused primarily on veterans returning from war and the struggle they face integrating back into society. Often, as they attempt to re-integrate to “normal” society, they are unable to find the same “tribal” culture that is the cornerstone of camaraderie for war-time military units. Junger suggests that if there were more programs designed to connect veterans with ANY kind of functional social group, there would be less OVERALL negative effects for veterans returning to civilian life.
That means less veteran suicides. That means less chemical dependency for veterans. That means MORE functional members of society who have worth and purpose. That means MORE living heroes with a story to tell and dreams they want to achieve. For some veterans who experience PTSD, membership in a “tribe”, in any form, can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.
For most of us, the stakes aren’t that high. Sure, we are understand the importance of being social, but we may not understand the significant impact participation in these kind of groups has on our attitude and psychological health. For most of us, participation in a “tribe” prevents loneliness and depression, provides support and encouragement, provides social interactions and a sense of belonging.
For most of us, we get to choose our tribe based on shared interest, similar lifestyle choices, or common goals. We choose to surround ourselves with people who are similar to us, thus reinforcing the choices we make for ourselves, which makes us feel good.
For members of the Crossfit community, participation in a “tribe” also comes with some bonus perks that are often difficult to find out in the “real” world. For athletes and coaches in a Crossfit box, the bond that develops through communal suffering is something you can’t find anywhere else.
The camaraderie and competition, fueled by each individual’s desire to make themselves better, is something you can’t find anywhere else. The desire to develop and progress, and the “iron will” that is forged by facing adversity and literally working through it, are something you can’t find anywhere else.
I hope you are seeing the connection here. I hope you understand that every day you show up on the black mats, you aren’t only doing it for you. Your participation means our coaches have a job and athletes to coach.
Your participation means your workout buddy receives encouragement from you, and you are encouraged by someone else. Your participation means a connection is established, a friendship is fostered, a goal is achieved. Your participation establishes your place in our community. Your participation makes you part of our TRIBE.
The next time you step on the black mats, take a moment to contemplate how you contribute to our community and what you get from our community. Take a moment to reflect on why you continue to show up, work out, opt in, participate.
Pause briefly and consider how important you are to the people around you, and how important they are to your personal well-being. We may have our quirks, and we may have a host of differences that make us individual and unique, but when we come together as a group to pursue fitness and get away from the world for an hour, we become something all-together more significant. We have a TRIBE.
Until next time… Peace.Tobias.