By Susanna Calvert, MAPP, PhD and Victoria Ronnau, JD
Good relationships are central to our wellbeing but can be so hard to create. Few of us are taught how to create healthy and rewarding relationships. A lucky few have had good role models. The rest of us have had to learn by trial and error; in our cases, more by error than trial. But these are learnable skills! As a result, the mission of the Foundation for Family and Community Healing is to help others learn to create healthy and rewarding relationships with ourselves, each other, and Earth.
Like with any other endeavor where we put in effort to learn, I (Susanna) have learned over the years how to create healthier, more satisfying relationships with myself and others in my life. I was not blessed with either this natural ability or good role models (sorry Mom and Dad) but have benefited from my determination to learn to do better.
A huge lesson about healthy relationships came from the realization that taking a win-lose approach to arguments is really a lose-lose proposition. Needing to be right and winning arguments might feel good in the short run, but dooms the relationship in the end.
This concept can be challenging to understand, because we can sometimes be so invested in our perspective, that of course, others are wrong. When they are wrong, then they have to admit it and subscribe to my truth going forward, when in fact, truth tends to exist on both sides of an argument.
When we embrace this philosophy of right/wrong, then it naturally leads to good/bad, and deserving/undeserving. If someone or something is bad, then they are neither deserving nor worthy of care or protection. We are entitled to take from them, correct them, fix them, and treat them as less than.
According to the Arbinger Institute (arbinger.com), this objectification allows us (often subconsciously) to justify mistreating, exploiting, or ignoring them. So we may have started feeling “right” but we end up perpetuating mistreatment or neglect on others.
Perhaps you’ve been on both the receiving and giving ends of such treatment at different points in time. As the recipient, where you’ve been ignored, abused, or taken advantage of, were you inclined to want to invest in such relationships? Was it a peaceful and/or happy relationship? Or was the relationship full of conflict and negative feelings?
Such power differentials, where one side is viewed as right/good/deserving and the other as wrong/bad/undeserving, tend to create unhealthy dynamics where the relationship suffers in the end.
Some power differentials are natural and necessary, such as parent/child, teacher/student, and employer/employee. Though those differences may be necessary, healthy relationships would still include mutual respect, trust, care, and a willingness to be influenced by the other. In such situations, the person in power has the greater responsibility to create the environment that fosters safety, trust, and cooperation in the relationship.
Such power differentials, and abuses of, can be seen at every level: interpersonal, between communities, between nations, between species, and with Earth. Take a moment to consider whether objectification is occurring at any of these levels in your life and beyond. Is the relationship suffering, and to what consequence?
Is that objectification occurring in our relationship with Earth and our natural world? Humanity’s relationship with nature and Earth seems to be something that we take for granted, much as a child takes for granted his relationship with his parent.
Our relationships with non-human species and the ecosystem upon which all life on Earth depends appear to be deeply troubled. We proport to love nature, but regularly damage and destroy forests, rivers, land, sky, and other species out of fear, convenience, or profit. We are damaging, destroying, or eliminating entire ecosystems, including native forests, grasslands, coral reefs, and wetlands. Ancient, complex, and vital systems, such as the climate, water, and nitrogen cycles, are being disrupted across the planet by our actions and neglect.
Our legal system, which we depend on to defend human (and ironically, corporate) rights, identifies our natural world as property. Increasingly, our existing environmental laws ignore, or are ignored, as we destroy, deplete, and ignore Earth. Humanity’s relationship, once based on reciprocity, trust, and a sense of shared destiny, has been replaced by exploitation, aggression, or indifference as we now prize wealth over care of our beautiful planet.
Though we believe the consciousness around Earth care has been shifting back to one of reverence and partnership, environmental law has been going in the wrong direction with regard to legal protection. We need new approaches if we are going to provide meaningful care to Earth once again.
The Rights of Nature movement concerns the legalization of the rights of nature. This approach restores balance and reciprocity in our relationship with nature. Here, we recognize nature’s inherent value as a beloved partner in our mutual wellbeing and survival, and not inanimate property to be exploited by the most aggressive among us. The Rights of Nature is an effort to fundamentally address the structure of the laws that permit nature’s exploitation and abuse.
The Virginia Network for Democracy and Environmental Rights’ (VNDER) work involves ultimately promoting recognition of the human right to live in a healthy environment. We are helping people in Virginia cities, towns, and communities to create new civil and environmental rights to protect them against projects harmful to their communities.
The work of VNDER and other like-minded organizations is restoring mutual care and balance to our legal relationship with nature and with ourselves. By supporting such efforts, you are saying that you care about protecting our beloved Earth and human health proactively through legal means as a supplement to the ongoing conservation and physical care valiantly promoted by the many environmental advocacy organizations.
The Foundation for Family and Community Healing is also promoting the care of Earth through emotional and spiritual means. Together, with the conservation, sustainability, and legal protection, we can provide truly holistic care to Earth when she needs it most.
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