I’m not a big Facebook fan — in fact, I’ve avoided it with a passion for much of the last decade. It was my love of tennis, along with the desire to share my views about the game, that inspired me to grit my teeth and cross the line that for years kept me clear of the “madness of crowds” that seems to be a feature, not a bug, of social media. Yet here I am, active on Facebook as the admin of my own group.

Why did I duck-and-cover when it came to social media? For two reasons, really: Because the virtual nature of the interactions makes it so easy for people to behave badly, and because it easily degrades into the worst sort of us-versus-them tribalism. “We’re wonderful and they’re terrible” — that’s the social media song of the day, and the week, and the year, and perhaps (but I hope not) forever.

My immersion in tennis-focused Facebook groups has helped me find the positive in social media. Dozens of countries are represented among the members of my Facebook group. I’ve seen pictures of tennis courts carved out of savannah, tennis courts surrounded by palm trees, tennis courts that are little more than a patch of dirt with lines drawn on it. It’s a beautiful thing, how the love of tennis shows up around the world.

Here’s what I’ve come to realize from my immersion in tennis social media: We tennis players are a tribe, but we’re a tribe with a difference. The vast majority of tribes define themselves in part by what they’re not. “I’m Jewish, not Christian.” “I’m Black, not White.” “I’m a Tottenham Hotspurs fan, not a Manchester United fan.” And so on.

Our tennis tribe is different. We’re joined by a common interest — tennis — and by a shared sentiment — love of the game. We don’t self-define through differentiation. “I’m a tennis guy, not a cricket guy” — you won’t hear that sort of thing because that’s not how we roll. There is no “other” in the tribe of tennis.

In fact, our shared love of the game overrides all the differences — and distrust, and hostility — that might arise if we got into the nitty-gritty about our other tribal identifications. When you look at a photo of a smiling person holding a tennis racket, do you care that they’re not your ethnicity or perhaps not your religion? I’m pretty sure the answer is no. It’s probably just a happy face to you, and a member of your global tennis family.

Which brings me to my final point. If you were to take a 30,000-foot view of life on this planet, you’d see an endless swarm of tribal rivalries — nation against nation, religion against religion, ethnicity against ethnicity, and so on. We put the vast majority of our attention on our differences, yet beneath it all, we are all members of the same human family with the same needs, the same longings, the same pains, and the same pleasures.

We are, in fact, a single tribe, a fact that frequently goes unrecognized.

I am a “universalist” down to the core of my being. I believe we should be focusing on what makes us similar, not on what makes us different. Down the one path lies connection and community — down the other, hostility and competition.

Our tribe of tennis is a single, universal “us” — and, even better, in this time of climate change when widespread global consciousness is so imperative, it is a single, universal, global us.
We are a role model for how a tribe can be a force for better in the world. We model love, delight and co-learning without the need to scapegoat or vilify. We model love without hate, “yes” without “no.”

Something beautiful is happening here. The game of tennis is truly remarkable.

Thank you for being part of the tribe called tennis!

On the court and in your life, are you attuned more to similarities or to differences?