Division Can Connect: Personal Relationships Toward Social Change by Michelle Katz
Suzanne Simard, a Professor of Forest Ecology in the Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences at University of BC, and Peter Wohlleben, author of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communication---Discoveries from a Secret World, speak and write about a scientific revolution that nature is soulful, not to be dissected and studied, with no sense of its sacredness. They say that the current era demands us to transition our way of thinking and learning about nature, and I believe we should do the same about our thinking and learning of other humans! How do we treat all living beings in a sustainable and life-honoring way? Nature is not a mindless machine, it is a complex living systems with intelligence, and most notably, with intricate relationships! Simard’s and Wohlleben’s research has shown that, without a doubt, forests are in fact communities with adaptive networks, they help feed each other, and help each other grow. In fact, these networks, look a lot like human neural and social networks! This offers us a lot to learn about community and about survival. If we, as a species intent to survive, it may be in our best interest to learn how to live in balanced way, to learn from the way plants and fungi live, then perhaps we can find our resilience for the long haul.
As of late, I have found myself in deep and continual dialogue about diversity. These are not easy conversations. I am finding lots of fear in these places/spaces. Fear of being hurt, fear of being misunderstood, fear of being accused, fear of being stereotyped, free of saying the wrong thing, fear of hurting another. I wonder if there is a way to grow more willing to be with this fear, because it does not seem like it will be going away anytime soon. And if we can do this, then, maybe, the fear will slowly dissipate and leave greater understanding.
This past week, I sat with a diverse group of individuals. Many ages, races, genders, religion, and ethnicities, represented within this small group. When I looked around at the faces, some familiar and some new, my heart felt so full. (something whispered about a microcosm of America and what it dreams to be.) As each one of us took turns to speak of our lineage into the circle in any way we can, I felt expansion. And as our time continued on, I watched as individuals began to represent a group in our greater population. I found myself following suit, stepping in as a Jewish Woman, when I don’t feel I truly represent this whole. I began to then think of the psychology of those that hold the not so obvious minority culture, versus those that are more obviously of a minority culture. I thought about the discrimination many face, and how now it feels as if no group is immune to this. The defensiveness is in everyone. I thought, then, about the happening in Charlottesville this year (being particularly hurtful for me) and the many similar events that occur before and after. These demonstrations revealing how far back in the past we are in this fight. Inside I was screaming, “I don’t want to talk about what makes me different, I just want to sit in the knowing that all our difference make it possible to create something great! Complexity can be simplified!”
At this time, I, frustrated, decided to take a walk. I went toward the mountains and into woods, I walked a snowy path with foot prints along the way, rabbit, deer, children, adult; I heard birds, blue, wren, chickadee, raven; I touched trees and plants; large, small, pinon and ponderosa, shrub; I stepped on wet soil, pine covered soil and rocky path. I felt myself truly relating to the world here. I sat on a rock and watched at the creek moved through the landscape and how the sun hit and shade crawled onto the area. And I recalled Suzanne Simard and Peter Wohlleben. I was on the land, learning about diversity and societies working together! I remembered that it’s not about claiming our differences or what divides us and standing strongly in the need for apology of any wrong doing toward these differences. It’s about acknowledging and seeing how the differences inform the whole, Relationship is what creates reparation. And it’s not the relationship between every Pinon and every Ponderosa and every Aspen and every shrub in the whole world (that’s too much to ask for right now), it’s about the relationship between the Pinon that rests in the arms of the Ponderosa, or the shrub that faces the Aspen across the river. The invitation was clear to me: personal relationship is what moves us toward social change.
Later in the week, the invitation and opportunity revealed itself again. I watched people got uncomfortable in the conversation of appropriation and how we can come to respect of each other, offensiveness and fear revealed itself in everyone. I watched uncertain of engagement and how it can lead to positive outcomes, and I saw others want to jump in with both feet with the desire to become more and more conscious in our ever changing society. I know both paths have its difficulties.
I again returned to my time in the woods, knowing from nature, that engaging in the conversations of potential discomfort but continual curiosity, we grow, and it won’t be a world change until we do the soulful personal exchanges. Let’s stop dissecting ourselves and each other and come to a place of acknowledging we are all sacred, and all worthy of honoring, and in this, humanity as a whole can be more sustainable. Humanity is complex, our relationships are complex, but we can choose to take a cue from nature, and be complex in a way that supports each others' growing together rather than breaking us apart. Let us find a way to work together as the woods do. It is time for us to adapt, to feel what nutrients are needed across the river to ensure our survival, and send it that way so that we can continue to look at each other for the long haul.
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