“What are you doing?”


“You are doing something, what is it?”

“I’m listening to you.”

“No, you’re doing something else as well, what is it?”

Caught out yet again. One of the bi-products of having offspring in the Mancunian (A person raised or living in the city of Manchester, England, in the United Kingdom) diaspora is that most communication is conducted over the phone. Often they will call when they haven’t anything else on: when they are walking home for example. Conversely, this is often when I am trying to get something completed, like an article. After a number of conversations following the above sequence, I now give them my undivided attention (good job they don’t read this!). As illustrated, I am particularly poor at multi-tasking, or as I pointed out in a previous article highlighting research that we are unable to undertake more than one task at any one time, I am not quick enough at switching between tasks. Which leads me to as ask a favour of you. Please read this column carefully, give it your undivided attention and do not try to do something else at the same time. This is important, because the subject matter I would like to discuss raises strong emotions. In order to avoid generating the wrong perceptions or stimulating immediate reactions, please read the whole article before deriving your responses or opinions.

The subject is the formation of polarised groups. Not that there is anything wrong with groups per se. They are a necessary part of life. I can list any number of groups I can be categorised by, with varying degrees of self-identification: race, nationality, beliefs (in all areas), school, occupation, family, sports. With some, like family, there is a strong and constant tie. With others, the strength of the tie varies from time to time and sometimes in combination with of one of the other groups: the loyalty to nationality only comes to the fore when it combines with major sporting events.

In recent years there has been more recognition of polarised groups, which contain people with a common view or belief.  Modern vernacular will refer to such groups as tribes. The dictionary mainly defines tribe in the anthropological sense as “a group of families or clans believed to have a common ancestor”. However, there is a more general definition of “a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest” and in fact, the Latin origin of the word, tribus, described a political division of the Roman people representing one of Rome’s three original tribes. It is not surprising then that the word tribe is often used in a political context. The EU referendum in June 2016 generated two distinct tribes. A recent survey undertaken by Chatham House and reported on the BBC website on 1/12/17, identified the existence of six distinct political “tribes” within the EU based on their views of the organisation.

Labelling such polarised groups as tribes is also used in a derogatory way about those whose loyalty to a tribe, or other social group, is combined with strong negative feelings for people outside that group. Such groups are often insular and hostile to people who do not belong. They are characterised by a need to protect their own at any cost, even to the extent of ignoring reason and morality. Other traits include the ignoring of facts due to prejudice and checking facts so as to entrench bias. The more challenge there is to the group’s views, the more they are defended. The echo chamber of the internet and social media has helped to foster these traits and facilitate the hostility to outsiders.

The need to belong to a group is an in-built, subconscious survival mechanism for humans. This is just as important in work as it is outside in family and social circles. It is also important for the growth and development of a profession such as NDT. If I asked you to list the various groups that exist or have existed within the NDT profession, I am sure that you would be able to list many. I am also sure that you would not label any of them as a tribe, although tribalist traits may have surfaced temporarily at times.  The challenge we face is to derive the benefits that such groups give us both as individuals and for the profession, whilst ensuring that we embrace diversity, encourage inclusion and do not succumb to the prevalent social impetus to polarisation. We need the groups to drive through initiatives: we need diversity and inclusion to create ideas for progression and secure future NDT personnel.

Having completed this text, I will now go and give free reign to my tribal instincts and cheer on my team! Do as I say and not what I do!