The exchange of affirmation is one of the core features of a viable and self-sustaining community. Without affirmation exchange, you probably have a group defined either by necessity or leadership, which will not survive the loss of either. To make a tribe, I firmly believe that you need to create an affirmation culture.
Affirmation can mean a number of things. Without getting bogged down in detail, here’s a quick list. Respect, gratitude, appreciation, encouragement, praise, compliments. Gestures that convey liking, enjoying, valuing and affection. Recognition that the person is needed, liked, valued, understood, accepted. Some or all of these things need to be expressed to take effect, and everyone must be to some degree involved in the process of affirming everyone else.
If affirmation primarily flows from one person to everyone else, you maybe have a benevolent tyrant, or a guru. Anyone excluded from affirmation will not get to feel like they are part of the tribe. In loose collections of people this can be a reasonable way of removing people who don’t fit. In families, is tends to be emotionally damaging for the unacceptable one. Equally, anyone who is not allowed to give affirmation is automatically afforded second class status. There is power in being able to distribute praise and implications for authority when praise is a common form of social currency.
I’ve started, led, and participated in a great many groups over the years. Groups with clear self awareness but permeable borders, I don’t like cliques and cults. I’ve watched what makes a group work, and what doesn’t. I have run as a benevolent dictator enough times. To be giver of praise and encouragement is a very easy way of making that role comfortable and useful, more an act of service than one of imposition. Benevolent dictatorships are good ways of getting things done, but they are not communities.
As Pagans we form into tribes of all kinds. Moot, grove, coven, learning circle, order and organisation. Sometimes for logistical reasons these have to have people running aspects of them, but that can be one role amongst many. Shared labour goes more naturally with free flowing affirmation, and people who freely exchange positivity are more likely to share responsibility and work. An affirmation culture makes you a good deal more aware of how other people see your input, and that can be a good counterbalance to those folk who make a lot of noise but otherwise contribute very little. In an affirmation culture, everyone has the right to judge you, and that in turn gives everyone a reason to be co-operative.
One person can define the nature of any group, if they’ve the will to do it. One person can shape the tribe they are in, and inform the society around them. Affirmation gets some really interesting results, some quickly, many over time. If you want a tribe, and a place to belong, affirmation might be the best way forwards. This is how we get cohesion and belonging.