All cultures have created stories to make sense of the purpose of life. Several stories have emerged in our time, some of which are at odds with our evolution as an emergent part of a vast, dynamic ecology. What story can we tell about ourselves and about our environment that inspires us to value life and sustain our planet? How do we tell a human story that is grounded in the history of the universe?
We are an integral part of the life of our planet. We belong here. And we have evolved a consciousness complex enough to know it and to reflect on its implications. Humans are wired for empathy. We are “moved” by each other’s suffering. And we have also developed complex abilities of thought. But while we can imagine multiple hypothetical scenarios, we ultimately make choices and take actions based on what moves us. Our behavior is not just determined by genetic coding; values dictate our decisions. And using language and technology, we have codified those values into culture. Culture, in turn, shapes the stories we tell about our life on the planet.
But we are just beginning to realize that more recently our culture has organized us to act in ways that have profoundly altered our evolution. With all our advanced technology, we have gained the power to seize control of our planet’s fate. Because of our actions, the ice caps are melting. Because of our greed, forests have been gutted. Our habits have led to the disappearance of countless species. Our civilization is confronted with a crisis no previous generation ever imagined. Indeed, our fate now hinges on our capacity to tell each other a different kind of story.
The central purpose of The Relational Movement is to tell a story that keeps us connected to our place in the cosmos, helping us to reassert the primacy of relationships with our “earth community”—our most precious resource—so that we can ensure our resiliency and sustainability in the face of mounting global crises. This human story portrays us as Earthlings, belonging to an ecology that has been on a very long journey as an integral part of the universe for billions of years. It tells us that we are part of an exquisite life system that will sustain us as long as we understand our place in it.
The Relational Movement calls upon humans everywhere to resonate to and broadcast this story, promoting an intentional culture that ritualizes the practices of empathy, inclusion and collaboration in a world where social isolation and disengagement now abound. It is a movement of many movements, seeking to contribute an understanding of the critical role culture has played and can still play in influencing human consciousness. We are at a new turning point in our history where our best chances for survival depend on our capacity to harness our human potential to ensure we can thrive in harmony with the diverse expressions of life on our planet. This movement serves to call upon our global human family to unite in cultivating a peaceful, sustainable world.
The Problem We Address
Many people carry a sense of global crisis that is social, political, economic and environmental in its reach. The crisis grows worse every day as the planet's resources are consumed beyond what can be sustained. A culture of individualism, social disengagement and consumerism impedes our access to thriving, interdependent community networks. This culture, with its own massive media machine, leaves us feeling alone, alienated and suspicious of others, further undermining our inclinations to lean on each other. Fear of dependency erodes our relationships, leaving our vital resource for resiliency and synergy untapped.
Consumer culture is most successful in crafting, spreading, and constantly reiterating a story that we humans are not really part of an ecology, but rather each separate, self-contained beings. The story tells us that technology will solve our global problems, and that we should expect to meet most of our needs by making purchases rather than leaning on one another. Becoming entangled in this story, we have come to rely on technology and material goods to replace vital relationships within a village that looks after us. The support of caring, empathic listeners has become accessible only to those who can purchase a professional service. In this paradigm of isolation and consumption, we have rapidly consumed the earth’s natural resources and become disengaged from what sustains us in the process.
Yet past attempts at organizing a solution have created structures that do not successfully tend to people's many diverse needs. Efforts to build alternatives and cultivate community are often thwarted by conflicts arising from the tension between individual and collective needs. Our culture has left us without skills for integrating the very diversity we need to catalyze a movement for change. Alienated when their diverse contributions are rejected or met with suspicion, many who would offer their leadership to a movement for change are instead isolated even further, losing access to the very support that builds human resilience. Still others retreat to tribalism, allying with groups that rely on conformity and fear diversity. Everyone is trapped in this dilemma until a new story can be articulated and alternative cultures can be built that attend to the need for belonging and a respect for the uniqueness of the individual.
The Questions We Must Answer
But how do we create such a culture? How do we practice what sociologists, ecologists, and even neurologists now agree is critical for the sustainability of our planet and all its inhabitants? What models and strategies will equip us with new skills and new knowledge about the interplay between our attitudes/behaviors and the health/well being of our social and physical environments? And how do we resist collapsing complexity so that we can arrive at adequate and sustainable solutions?
The Values We Must Hold
The Relational Movement calls for an alternative culture that keeps individuals and their local communities healthy and thriving, but not at the cost of the globe's natural resources or the well-being of global communities that lie outside our local contexts. We believe that health is inevitable in a culture that values compassion, diversity, equity and sustainability.
To promote these values we commit to these intentional practices:
- Collective Resonance (the practices of sensing and resonating which form the basis for access to mutual understanding and compassion, activating the capacity to recognize human belonging that transcends different groups and cultures)
- Radical Inclusion (the practices of strengths-based, appreciative inquiry and collaborative communication in the context of everyday community life, encouraging people to accept and value each other's differences)
- Democratic Participation (the practices of respectful collaboration and distribution of shared responsibility for the well being of communities)
- Ongoing Cultivation (the practices of relational organizing and leadership to engage people in building and sustaining a healthy, diverse and participatory culture)
Compare these with the 5 Ways to Well-being identified by the new economics foundation.
A Movement Building Strategy
In order to spread these practices and skills, we are building a social movement to promote healthy community by bringing together these three innovative elements:
Organizing Tradition: Relational Public Narrative
We adapt the Public Narrative organizing tradition, encouraging volunteers to develop rich stories about the challenges they have faced, the relationships that have inspired them to rise to those challenges, and the critical choices they have been able to make as a result. These stories then link to a larger story about the human community and the urgent decisions we must make as we navigate the great relational turn in our human history. This strategy helps us to rediscover our core human values to deepen our appreciation of the inevitable interdependency with one another and the ecology.
Cultivation Tools: Catalyzing Mutual Support
We believe that human beings are naturally equipped with resources and inclinations that favor mutual understanding and cooperation. So we teach strategies that tap into the capacities all human beings have evolved so that together we can reclaim our ancient culture of mutual support and refine it so that we can integrate the rich diversity of our contemporary global human family. By drawing upon the values implicit in our prosocial nature, we can sustain a culture of radical engagement to promote and protect healthy community for all people.
Resource Mobilization Plan: Community Action Networks (CANs)
This small-group format (usually of 7 to 12 people) serves as an incubator of our relational culture, an enduring structure to support ongoing development of the skills and strategies that drive the movement. Following mass trainings and smaller workshops, participants meet regularly in CANs to build their leadership capacity, practice the culture of radical engagement, and recruit others to form new CANs. We rely on CANs to spread and sustain relational values and to prepare participants for strategic action to reform institutions and advocate for just laws and policies.
The responsibility for this work is distributed among three partner organizations: