The size of a tribe

It is my understanding that generally people are wired up to be able to cope with social interactions between a group of 150 people. It’s an average, and like all averages there will be people to whom, one way or another and for whatever reasons, it does not apply. It is however a place to start from. How many people do you regularly deal with, through work, neighbourhood, family, social engagements… because of course back when we were tribal peoples, there wasn’t this weird distinction between different interactions with different groups of people in the same way. Pre-industrial revolution in fact, we peasants played, reproduced, worked and struggled alongside our neighbours. Pre-cars most of us had more connectivity to the people around us.

And then there’s internet. It is both a blessing and a curse in terms of the scope for breadth and depth of interaction. I’m married to a man I met online and some of my closest relationships depend to at least some degree on maintenance by ether, but there’s a lot of you out there.

Some weeks ago now, I had a meltdown. It happens. I was exhausted and I’d just had a run of messing up. I’d massively annoyed someone, and couldn’t work out if I needed to feel responsible over that. I’d forgotten an important historical detail while dealing with someone I care about. I panicked. In the process of stepping away from that and looking at what had happened, I realised a thing: I’m dealing with a lot of people.

In a normal week, I will interact with hundreds of different people. Local people, authors, random people on social media, friends, people I’ve run into somewhere, business contacts, bloggers, and so on and so forth. For that to work I have to remember who they are and what we have in common and what we talked about last time and what their issues are and who they don’t get on with and what offends them and all the other things.

Now, it’s possible to do this well with a handful of close connections. Trying to hold that level of detail and information-intimacy with truly hundreds of people some of whom I seldom communicate with… that’s tough. There are things about how I work and what I do that make it necessary, or at least useful, and when I can pull it off, this ability to handle a ‘tribe’ of excessive proportions certainly has its advantages, but what I realised is that I need to cut myself some slack if I can’t remember a conversation from a year ago, or if I make a mistake and someone is offended by that.

I can’t magically know everything, and that’s pointed to some much bigger issues. I’ve been places where I’ve been expected to magically know things I had no way of knowing, and been punished for failing to be psychic enough. I don’t have to carry on doing that to myself in the hopes of staying ahead of people who would otherwise cheerfully hurt me. What I need to do instead is have less to do with anyone who demands perfection of me, be more alert to unreasonable demands (mine and other people’s) and recognise that I actually have a really good memory for people related stuff, but I frequently push beyond its limits. I have to stop trying to be omniscient, it’s exhausting as well as being entirely beyond me.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

4 responses to “The size of a tribe

  • Christopher Blackwell

    What allow yourself to be imperfect? Welcome to the rest of the tribe, also imperfect. [Grin]

  • Sue Marsh

    Dearest Nimue, no person has the right to demand perfection from you as they aren’t perfect themselves. When someone tries to do this to you remember this…the person who wants you to be better is actually acting out what they want for themselves. We are all just human, we have certain capabilities, sometimes only on certain days…we fail in what we do sometimes but we grow and learn from those failures. This is what life’s all about, growing at our own rate and in our own time…this is what makes each of us unique. You are the “only” Nimue Brown, a normal human who has many ups and downs, but we all love you just for being you, for having the wide, open heart that you have, for being willing to share the unique you with us. Much love and many blessings from me.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you. I’ve had a few run ins along the way with people who just seen intent on finding something to have a problem with. it’s exhausting to deal with and has left me jumpy to say the least. Half my problem is spotting when that’s happening, when negative feedback isn’t needed, or useful, or helping. Things for me to ponder further.

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