Reflections from a Past December

Carol A. Hand

During the past week, I have been reviewing some of my December posts from past years. Many carry important messages that I have decided to share again. Following is a reflection posted on December 12, 2013. Not much has changed for the better in my neighborhood or the world since then.

A view from my back step – December 16, 2017

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Communities of Relatedness

 

Sitting on my back doorstep as I greeted yet another snowy morning, I was reflecting on my most recent neighborhood. West Duluth, the working class part of town. The side of town where the industries – manufacturing and paper mills – send plumes of putrid exhaust into the air. Some days the winds blow it eastward toward the lake, away from the children in my neighborhood who are walking to school or out on the school playgrounds. On the days the winds blow westward, I know it’s unwise to take more than very shallow breaths. Mine is the side of town where only those with few resources are able to find housing, the side of town where parents without choices send their children to schools with fewer resources and amenities. Even if I had more financial resources, I suspect I would still choose to live here, even though people in my neighborhood are not especially sociable – they’re too busy just trying to survive.

Perhaps it’s foolish of me, but I prefer to live in an old house that needs lots of work, with an overgrown yard that needs tending, on the side of town with the most diversity. So many people in the world live with far less. And it is the things that need transformation that attract my attention and inspire my creativity. I suspect it’s because of a different cultural frame. I don’t feel a sense of allegiance to the symbols of “nationhood” – fictive notions of fraternity – of us against the world. Instead, I realized this morning that I feel a sense of responsibility to people and my environment, not just Ojibwe people, but all my relations.

I have had the privilege of working for a state developing policies and programs for elders, and then working at the community level implementing and evaluating programs and policies for families and children. What I observed was a fundamental disconnect between policies developed by experts from a dominant cultural paradigm, what I refer to as “collectivities of strangers” like the residents of Duluth, and communities that were based on the foundation of enduring relationships. Raising the awareness of policy developers and academics to the importance of this distinction is not an easy task. So I have shifted my efforts to try to raise the awareness of students who will hopefully become the policy and program developers of the future.

From an indigenous perspective, the centrality of relationships is apparent. Tribal communities are characterized by centuries of enduring close family and community relationships among members and their natural environment, and members anticipate the continuation of these bonds for generations yet to come. The legalistic, impersonal approach used by the dominant Euro-American social welfare and judicial systems can best be characterized as “a collectivity of strangers,” designed to keep strangers from killing each other. As Jared Diamond (1997, Guns, Germs, and Steel) argues,

… the organization of human government tends to change … in societies with more than a few hundred members … [as] the difficult issue of conflict resolution between strangers becomes increasingly acute in larger groups…. Those ties of relationship binding all tribal members make police, laws, and other conflict-resolving institutions of larger societies unnecessary, since any two villagers getting into an argument will share many kin, who will apply pressure on them to keep it from becoming violent. (p. 171)

What this means for the sense of responsibility members feel toward each other from these contrasting cultural paradigms can be simplistically illustrated.

Community of Relatedness                   Collectivity of Strangers

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What these distinctions mean for children can be described simplistically as well.

As I contemplate these contrasts this morning, I need to ground the philosophical questions in my present lived experience. Fortunately for my neighborhood, the gentle wind is blowing in from the west this morning, leaving the air clean and sweet. It was safe to take deep breaths and contemplate the possibility of building a sense of community that recognizes the importance of protecting the health of all our relations. In doing so, however, I am mindful that my privilege of breathing clean air this morning doesn’t mean the world is fair. The factories that provide jobs for people in my neighborhood are still sending forth poison plumes. It is others who are downwind who must breathe shallowly today. They are both strangers to me in one sense, and relatives in another. The challenge I contemplate is how to reach out to them so we can begin to work collectively to create a community that is healthy every day for all of our relations.

***

 

27 thoughts on “Reflections from a Past December”

  1. The challenges we face in our communities grow daily. We can only do what is within our power to create a healthier and better community for all. Awareness is a great start in moving forward. Inspiring others to work for change, as you do, yields fruit in due season.
    Wishing you JOY ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Carol,
    “members anticipate the continuation of these bonds for generations yet to come.”
    So powerful….I can only think that stewards of the “continuation” are a fundamental part of the equation. Personally, I can see some of my children as carriers of this torch while others, have drifted from the family unit. Ebb and flow, God provides. Peace to you Carol.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Most heartening thoughts thank you Carol at the end of 2017 which has been pretty down for many of us, all round the world. But closer to home we all can try to help sustain a better outlook in ourselves and those all around us. You show us how we can all try a bit harder!

    Let’s hope 2018 brings cheer to those many in the World who need it.

    Does that local boy made good from Hibbing, who moved away from Duluth when his daddy got ill, have anything like what you might call meaningful links there?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful, Nick. I agree with you. This year has been so difficult for so many people, and yet there are many encounters that give me a reason to keep focused on the small things we can do to live with gratitude, wonder, compassion and integrity.

      (I do think Dylan visits to perform occasionally, although I haven’t had an opportunity to attend any of the events as yet.)

      Like

    1. Thank you for sharing such interesting insights, Paul, and for your thoughtful comments. I like your idea about “companions on a journey,” untied in virtual reality to support and encourage one another despite geographic distances that may separate us. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “… the organization of human government tends to change … in societies with more than a few hundred members … [as] the difficult issue of conflict resolution between strangers becomes increasingly acute in larger groups…. Those ties of relationship binding all tribal members make police, laws, and other conflict-resolving institutions of larger societies unnecessary, since any two villagers getting into an argument will share many kin, who will apply pressure on them to keep it from becoming violent. (p. 171)”

    I see this as the challenge, until we (humanity) get ourselves back to small self-governing/sustaining communities, nothing is ever going to change for the better of humanity or the planet.

    I’m sure you know this, Carol, but five to seven hundred years ago, before the popes instituted feudalism/capitalism, Western Europeans lived this way. I believe early humanity lived this way.

    But I doubt this can ever happen again. Because the largest portion of humanity, as Huxley pointed out, have grown to love their servitude/enslavement to this worldwide system of enormous, tyrannical government and nations.

    As I have said before, Carol, if more of us were like you, then we could get back to a sane world, where life is worth living for everyone and everything! We need more of you, Carol! So quick, divide!;-)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah Dave, you are so thoughtful. I have often wondered about the history of small, united, peaceful communities that were overrun by “barbarians” who dominated peaceful peoples and exploited their labor and resources, first by the sword and then by subtler forms of indoctrination. And yet, I keep trying to do what I can in my small sphere… I send my best wishes to you, dear friend. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Carol, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. This so hit home: “I don’t feel a sense of allegiance to the symbols of “nationhood” – fictive notions of fraternity – of us against the world. Instead, I realized this morning that I feel a sense of responsibility to people and my environment…” Yes, Yes, Yes. (and I am working on my next post… other things seem to be fighting for my attention and winning). Your friend in NC. Kathy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Kathy, thank you so much for sharing your important insights. It is hard to stay focused in times such as these. I am so glad to hear you are working on a new post! I send hugs and my best wishes to you, dear friend. ❤

      Like

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