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The Relational Turn


Stories are important organizing tools. All cultures have created stories to make sense of the purpose of their existence. Several big stories have emerged in our time. Some stories strike a chord in our hearts; others fall flat. And some are in conflict with the values we hold dear.

I am particularly concerned with big stories—propaganda stories—that undermine our fundamentally relational nature, putting us at odds with our relationships to each other and to the evolutionary journey of the human species. What new story can we tell about ourselves that reawakens us to our connectedness with the planet and with the diverse expressions of our human family? How do we reclaim our human story?

I recommend that we start with a wholehearted acknowledgment that we are an integral part of the life of our planet, not sitting on top of the land, but growing out of it along with every other life form with which we share our environment. We belong here. And we have a consciousness complex enough to know it and to reflect on its implications. That consciousness drove the evolution of our early modern human ancestors toward two pivotal capacities that we continue to deepen and refine to date: 1) an imperative for social bonding and 2) the ability to cultivate a vision.

The human story is a relational story. Science tells us that early humans were wired for empathy. The force of rapid, complicated adaptations moved some of the advanced stages of prenatal development out of the womb and into the social surround. So for our curious species, the womb-like conditions needed for health and sustainability had to be extended somehow into the village. Such a demand provoked refinements in their empathic sensibilities, favoring the critically important motivation to continue nurturing their young. This is why, to this day, humans are profoundly “moved” by the suffering of others, especially those who appear vulnerable and in need of care.

And the human story is a cultivating story. Having relocated so much of our development to the world-space where we interact with each other and with the larger environment, we needed another set of capacities related to the transmission of vision and values. We had to be capable of generating multiple hypothetical scenarios and then communicate which ones would guarantee the survival of our young. The survival mandate could no longer advance exclusively through genetic coding. We needed culture to keep our values intact through multiple generations, instilling a powerful vision of a future in which we see our children live long enough to bear their own children and sustain them to weaning.

But now we are beginning to see how a contemporary meta-culture is spinning a story that seduces us into undermining that future-protecting vision. 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.

As environmental, economic, social and political crises mount in places around the globe, it becomes increasingly important for at-risk communities to come together to tell a new story. And healing professionals can help. Trained in an integrative model that blends supportive counseling with organizing and leadership development strategies, we can work together, practitioners and activists side by side, to cultivate the conditions that lead to health, wellbeing and social justice for everyone.

/Mark Fairfield

Welcome to a workshop with Mark 4-6 March!
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