Home » Blog » Humans are herd creatures

Humans are herd creatures


I am not an anthropologist or a zoologist. Period.

Insular humans

Herd of elephants migrating

Humans are herd creatures. Creatures who necessarily rely on others. “That’s not right”, some of you might say. “I don’t need anybody else”. And that is certainly what we see in a lot of our American culture. We can find a lot of evidence to suggest that isolation and minding our own business and being part of a nuclear family is the only way to live. We get up in the morning and leave our single family home, get into our sedan or van or SUV designed to carry 5-ish people, drive to our cubicle or office, eat lunch in a booth with a couple of coworkers, and come home 9 or so hours later to our partner and 2.5 kids. We call a grandparent or a sibling in a different town sometimes. If our work and parenting and partnering don’t take all of our time, we may occasionally see a friend. Primarily, we move from insular housing to individual transportation to working and socializing in common spaces that are designed to keep us separated. Our society, our physical environment, are constructed on the principle of individualism or nuclear family-ism, perhaps. But is that healthy? Is that the best way to live?

Tribal creatures

Let me start with the concept of humans as tribes, which academics would likely tell you we more accurately are than herd creatures. To speak in the vernacular, way back to the cavemen and cavewomen (and of course before that as primates, but I’m not here to debate human biophysiological development per se), humans lived in tribes. And though much of our American society is nuclear family, as much as 80% of the world’s population does live in tribes. What is a tribe anyway? I like to be able to give accurate definitions instead of taking awkward stabs at what words actually mean. So according to Oxford languages on my phone (let that info serve as the footnote), a tribe is “a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader”. This definition feels really academic and wordy. It is accurate and true, but there’s something stiff and rigid about it.

Herd animals

Let’s take a gander at the definition of herd. I don’t know why, I just like it. The definition of herd is “a large group of animals, especially hoofed mammals, that live, feed, or migrate together”. Listen, I’m not calling you a cow so don’t get offended. A herd is just a bunch of cows or elephants or deer, munching on grass, moving from field to field. Living, feeding, and migrating together. No walls, no barriers to their congregating. When they stay with the group, they’re protected. To wander off, to be solo with no tribe or herd, surely means death. Together = life.

That’s not how any of this works

That is what is meant for us. Like tribal communities or animals who herd, we’re not meant to go it alone. We are not meant for independence. It is not healthy for us to isolate and insulate. It is not good to be without the support of a herd, our tribe. We need folks with whom we can live, and feed, and migrate. We need to share our burdens with others and laugh with others and eat with others and – as much as I hate this phrase – “DO LIFE” with others.

The epidemic of loneliness, the prologue.

There are so many people in our world today who are lonely. Who are trying to go it alone, or maybe who don’t want to go it alone but don’t know how to find their herd or tribe. We’ve lost our way as a society. We’ve lost our way and isolate ourselves from our brothers and sisters and cousins, our blood family and our chosen family. We will keep getting lonelier, more divided, sicker, unhappier, the longer we remain disconnected from each other.

There. I said it.

I am an introvert, pretty strong on the scale. I used to think my ideal job would be one where I could work from home, never interact with coworkers, and stay inside my house 7 days a week. When I could, I purposefully disconnected myself from others. When I left my full-time job in August of 2021, I was looking forward to that. What I found was even I, a self-proclaimed hermit, do not do well in isolation. Over the past few months I have been lonely, something I only admitted to my husband and best friend recently. Once I successfully disconnected myself from nearly everyone, I realized I had been wrong to do so. That’s another story for another day.

The way we are really meant to live is in interdependence. In our individualistic society that’s quite a radical notion. We are meant to live amongst a herd. We are meant to share burdens, costs of living, living space, chores, good times, times we need help…we are meant to share life with our herd.