Tribal Boundaries, excerpt from Breadcrumbs: Finding a Philosophy of Life by William F. Merck II

January 13, 2023

Tribal Boundaries

William F. Merck II, Author, Leader, Speaker

by William F. Merck II

On Book Excerpts | Philosophy

I believe that people are inherently good with exceptions. I strive to appreciate people for who they are, not what they appear to be.

When I was six years old, we moved into a house in a suburban neighborhood in Waycross, Georgia. It was a nice neighborhood when I lived there in the 1950s and early 1960s. In those days, doors to our houses were never locked. The local dry-cleaning establishment had a man who would pick up clothes from our house. When he returned them, he’d knock on the front door, open it, and lay the cleaned clothes in their wrappers on the floor by the door and leave. It did not matter if we were home or not. Milk deliveries were similar in that the milkman, always a man, would knock on the door, open it, and announce he was there. If he heard no objection, he would go into the kitchen and put the milk bottles in the refrigerator and leave.

Neighborhood children would come and go between each other’s houses. Cars were left parked on the side of the road in front of each person’s house, unlocked. Theft was just not a problem. There was a mutual sense of trust in the neighborhood. Strangers, however, were rare and were noticed with some suspicion. Perhaps within our boundaries, our neighborhoods, we had a sense of security stemming from a mutual protectiveness inherited from our ancestral generations.

Spies in Our Midst

One afternoon, a friend and I observed a couple of men walking through the surrounding neighborhoods. Strangers in the tribal boundaries! We had never seen them before and, based on the dress suits they were wearing, we decided they must be spies. Okay, this was an illogical conclusion as to what stealthy spies would wear in a residential neighborhood, but we saw what we wanted to see.

So, we spent what seemed to be an hour sneaking behind them, hiding in bushes, behind trees, and any hidden place to keep the spies from seeing us. Finally, we saw them knock on a door. Someone inside the home opened the door, and they went in. It was getting dark, so we decided to run to my house and download all of our clandestine observations to my mother. When we got to the part about the spies being let into a particular house, she allowed that she knew the woman who lived there. To our delight and surprise, she telephoned the woman and asked about the men who had dropped in.

To our total disappointment, Mother learned that the two men were on a sales call and pitching an encyclopedia to the homeowner. We sometimes did let our imaginations run a little too wild, but we spent our free time dreaming up creative ways to have fun. That particular game of following the strangers is an example of our conditioning to watch for outsiders in our area.

I became conscious of the group’s studied avoidance of eye contact with me.

Today, in my current suburban neighborhood in Florida, walking is a pleasant means of exercise and provides an opportunity to meet neighbors who are also out in their yards or walking along as well. There is a cul-de-sac a short distance away from my house that I sometimes walk through, but not on a regular basis. A lot of young families with toddlers and grammar school-aged children live there.

A neighbor told me that every week or so, they gather in one of their yards facing the street to socialize. One Friday afternoon, I ventured around this cul-de-sac while they were gathered in a front yard, spilling out onto the sidewalk and into the edge of the street.

As I walked by, I became conscious of the group’s studied avoidance of eye contact with me.

Tribal Boundaries, excerpt from Breadcrumbs: Finding a Philosophy of Life by William F. Merck II
Quote by author William F. Merck II

They now accept me as “belonging” there.

In one moment, the mother of a child made brief eye contact, but she quickly looked away so as not to need to acknowledge my presence. Even though my home was little more than two blocks away, I was the outsider, a person to be viewed with suspicion and not to be shown any sign of openness or welcome inside “their” territory.

There are no distinguishing differences between us, other than I am about forty years older than the oldest of them. But that shouldn’t have triggered alarm. The main difference was they simply didn’t appear to recall seeing me before. I was a stranger. On other days when I walk the streets I more commonly frequent, I will see individuals or couples along the way who give a friendly wave and greeting. They have seen me walking by more than once before and accept me as “belonging” there.

Excerpt from my book, Breadcrumbs, Finding a Philosophy of Life.


BREADCRUMBS: Finding a Philosophy of Life

In Bill’s new book released on March 14, 2023, the author uses stories from his life’s journey to illustrate points in time that helped form his view of the world and his place in it. From growing up in Southern Georgia in the 1940s, to becoming a military officer and a corporate leader, he discovers a nexus between early feelings and subsequent notions and beliefs.

On Philosophy



So, You Want to Be a LEADER

Being a leader is not easy for anyone. Thankfully, this book transforms more than a half-century of leadership experiences into a practical handbook for those looking to excel in leadership roles. In candid fashion, So, You Want to Be a Leader: Secrets of a Lifetime of Success, reveals what works—along with an unvarnished examination of what doesn’t—in a myriad of work-related situations.

On Leadership