Baboons, diabetes and the power of a tribe to thrive

I watched a National Geographic special last month about baboons and thought about diabetes. Hmm…I don’t mean we are baboons, or do I?

A researcher had been studying a tribe of baboons for 30 years in the wilds of Africa. After 10 years he noted that they acted like a pretty typical tribe with all kinds of aggressive behaviors, male dominance and female submission– no, that’s not why I’m comparing us to baboons!  

Several of the more aggressive male baboons unknowingly ate toxic garbage one night and died leaving the tribe 2/3 female and the males that remained were the kinder, more socialized, go-along types. Obviously they were preparing dinner while the aggressive males were out stealing food.

Stay with me a little longer. Traditionally, baboons leave their mother after six months of life and roam looking for a tribe to join; the ones that joined this tribe after it lost its aggressive males, the researcher noted on subsequent trips back to Africa, took on the tribe’s new characteristics: the new baboons became interdependent, cooperative, highly socialized and relatively relaxed. The baboons individually, and the tribe, began to “thrive.”

Researchers then correlated the characteristics of the tribe: control, high sociability and low stress with workers in London (it was their call not mine) and discovered when employees felt that they had control in their jobs and were highly social, they experienced much less stress. I began to wonder could we put this equation to diabetes: 

Does Control + High Sociability = lower stress managing diabetes?

Examining this equation against my personal life I mused: I have control over my diabetes because:

1. I have knowledge how to manage my blood sugar and my disease 

2. I have the medicine, supplies and equipment I need to treat it

3. I have control over my emotions realizing they will go up and down, come and go and the best thing to do is learn from my “mistakes” and not berate myself.

I have sociability because I am connected to others with diabetes through participating in a support group and at health events. I can share my woes, diabetes and non, with family members, friends and health providers. I have friends and family to enjoy life with beyond my diabetes life. With control and sociability I feel confident, supported and capable which empowers me to commit to my care.

As my business management husband says this is famed professor and sociologist, Aaron Antonovsky’s famed theory: people do well despite adverse circumstances if they comprehend what is going on, have a sense they can manage it, and they feel it is worth it to do so, which comes from “belonging” to a caring tribe.

So are we baboons? I don’t know, but the principles seem worth paying attention to regarding your diabetes management. Just don’t eat too many bananas, you know they’re full of carbs!

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