Understanding the Impact of Relationships

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Tompkins Weekly 3-10–21

By Cathleen Banford

Signs of Sustainability (SoS) is a twice-monthly column that aims to promote sustainability in our community. Mothers Out Front, self-described as being “unified by the drive to protect all children from the climate crisis that impacts their health today and a livable climate for them tomorrow,” recently asked if there was a framework or parameters for contributing to the SoS series. This feels like a good time to convey more about the purpose of these articles.

SoS is an opportunity to recognize what we are doing as a community to further the progress around ecological responsibility and respect for our natural world. It’s also a place to honor the importance of nurturing relationships in community and creating the space necessary for trust to grow and for growing the courage to face challenges, especially the ones that pull us out of our comfort zone.

The University of California, Los Angeles Sustainability Committee phrases the concept of sustainability as: “the integration of environmental health, social equity, and economic vitality in order to create thriving, healthy, diverse, and resilient communities for this generation and generations to come.”

Impactful change connects common themes throughout the community, recognizing patterns, trends, initiatives and relationships happening locally, nationally and worldwide. It’s the work of taking back our own will to thrive, as Mothers Out Front advocates.

People’s experiences are deeply interconnected, as are the multiple crises we face. Living in isolation can make it difficult for enough people to understand this, not just during the pandemic but also while still walking the misguided path of a society founded on exploitation and extractive mindsets that can blind us to the principles that sustain life.

One such example of complex connectivity in our society can be found as we follow the history of our relationship with hemp over the past few centuries.

Hemp is a plant that was highly valued by immigrants who began farming on lands stolen from Indigenous Peoples. Settlers were expected to grow hemp as a source of fiber, food and even as a way to pay taxes. During the industrial age, things changed, and there was an all-out marketing scheme to demonize hemp to create a market for plastics and fossil fuels.

People in the community lost relationships based on the exchange of locally made goods, such as goods from growing hemp. New communities living here could not understand the importance of conscientiously foraging for food and fiber on land that belonged to no one and was honored by everyone, as Indigenous cultures who were all but erased have done.

Henry Ford’s hemp-based fuel or the development of electric-powered cars never came to be until now. We became enveloped in an avalanche of bad policy and laws, and worst of all were the lies we believed, the blatant proclamations of superiority and resulting acts of cruelty.

People living with a sense of urgency to “make it” developed negative habits and feedback loops, profoundly harming our personal and interpersonal relationships, perpetuating more lies that those who are different are bad or that living in a sacred relationship with nature is backward.

Success outside institutionalized cultures became a threat. Communities were brutalized, re-cultured, oppressed, marginalized and even bombed. People consistently relocated, becoming less educated, less healthy and increasingly isolated.

We can shift the way we relate and build regenerative communities. African people living on this continent began initiatives that proved powerful, gaining prosperity in amazingly shorts periods of time, after emerging from slavery.

What may have been avoided if we as a society, already dulled by centuries of classism, had enough awareness to align ourselves with sustainable ethics and principles rather than the lies?

Understanding our own truth happens as we look through the lens of ethics and life-supporting principles. Observing life, working with nature, we’re able to recognize causes of far-reaching social patterns, positive or negative.

Winona LaDuke, long-time “right-minded doer,” in a time when this way of being is needed the most, knows how to grow hemp plants. She also understands the powerful healing that happens when communities come to appreciate and honor sacred relationships that sustain life.

She exchanges goods with a diverse ethnic group as her community, White Earth reservation (which is part of the Ojibwe nation in northwestern Minnesota), and a nearby Amish community connect in the midst of this pandemic. Youth seek to live on her farm, desiring to learn skills and grow food, living with agency and dignity, and healing energies at a multirelational level.

Permaculture is a framework grounded in three core ethics: earth care, people care and fair share, nurturing healthy relationships within all aspects of our lives and seeing truth in a deep respect for Indigenous knowledge practiced over vast spans of time and gained from lived experiences, mindful observation and science.

Twelve permaculture principles guide this work: 1) observe and interact, 2) catch and store energy, 3) obtain a yield, 4) apply self-regulation and feedback, 5) use and value renewables, 6) produce no waste, 7) design from patterns to details, 8) integrate, don’t segregate, 9) use small, slow solutions, 10) use and value diversity, 11) use edges and value the marginal and 12) creatively use and respond to change.

Looby Macnamara of the United Kingdom teaches cultural emergence by relating permaculture principles with social science and engaging people with frameworks to redesign social systems such as housing, health and education to become stronger as a community. It’s absolutely possible to spiral up, generating patterns of abundance.

Adrienne Maree Brown, author of “Emergent Strategies,” addressed the questions of inclusion as we do this work here:

“The questions to ask when shaping the invitation list are: Who is directly impacted by the issue? And who can move this work forward? Inviting the right people means we aren’t wasting time by negotiating goals nonstop throughout the meeting or managing the dissonance that occurs when a participant who shouldn’t be at the meeting tries to make it worth their time by derailing the process of advancing the stated goals.”

Brown continued.

“Now, right people doesn’t mean easy people,” Brown said. “Conflict and difference are often an important part of advancing the work, bringing real issues to the room. Trust is built when the right people are in the right room and can bring their opinions and work into a container that advances their individual and collective goals.”

The Signs of Sustainability series is meant to be an invitation for the right people and perspectives to move forward with substantive and lasting change. These are the people in our community who are living with what’s not working, doing the visioning and generating real-time solutions that we would be wise to prioritize. SoS is a place to honor and value people’s sacred truth and all the ways they nurture sustainable living.

A quote from a book my great grandmother reverently described to me a few years before leaving this world, “The Haudenosaunee Address to the Western World,” describes this well:

“The people who are living on this planet need to break with the narrow concept of human liberation, and begin to see liberation as something which needs to be extended to the whole of all the things that support life — the air, water, the trees, all the things that support the sacred web of life.”

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