I happened upon a site in which football fans went chin to chin with one another, each metaphorically prodding the other in the chest as they unloaded their invective in untutored Anglo-Saxon. The abuse was personal, its ferocity eye-bulging, their keyboards almost certainly foam-flecked.
What do you suppose was the offence that prompted such a volcanic eruption of vituperation? It was the apparently unforgivable heresy of believing that one football club was superior to the other. Just that.
One person’s declaration of support for his chosen club did not harm any animals or deprive children of their innocence. The mere fact of his declared belief in the superiority of ‘his’ club over another aroused more anger than man’s inhumanity to man anywhere you’d care to mention.
What amazed me about the incident (and my superficial researches indicate that it was not an isolated example) was that neither person had actually played for either club. They had no direct personal investment in the fortunes or track record of either club.
It was simply tribalism. Voluntary tribalism.
Tribes are good, of course. Seth Godin urges businesses to turn their customers into tribes. He says a group needs only two things to become a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate. Sadly, internet sites like the one above allow the proliferation of destructive tribes, partly because they lack the third, and most important element – leadership.
A tribe without a leader is just a crowd. And a crowd just makes noise and gets in the way.
The abusive individuals I mentioned above are not important in themselves, except as examples of the passion that committed followers can generate. Harness and direct that passion and you’ll have a movement.
It starts with an idea, and a leader to sell that idea. And what do you think would be the instrument employed by the leader? Words. There’s immense power in words. The right words.