It is heartening to see that relationality as a term is gaining more recognition. My work with relationality started in 2007 when co-teaching a graduate elective at Yale University on the deeper meaning of ‘Care’ and subsequently in exploring how the ubiquitous nature of relationality can be applied to social and economic policy. I would argue that engaging the inherent relationality of existence is essential and to our advantage if we are to address deep seated issues negatively impacting society and the earth.
A conceptual architecture of relationality is required that holds the sumultaneity implicit in the relationship of opposites: unity and diversity, inclusivity and exclusivity. I believe this can be achieved when relationality is placed into the context of a life principle. The virtuality of inherent relationality is the life principle. Allowing such a conceptual foundation to impact our thinking opens the door to a dimension of creative engagement that honours the living value and dynamic proportionality of the collective and the particular.
Such active participation and taking responsibility for the underlying reality of relationality represents a paradigm shift in how we understand and respond to complex issues facing us in the world today and profoundly impacts our understanding of democracy, individual and collective identity, and social and economic value.
Moral mores have changed dramatically over the last 50 years. Yet the ethical root that informs morality has not changed. The core values and principles that hold societies together still hold true. That modern society in particular is seen by some as morally deficient and traditional society viewed by others as archaic does not tell the whole story. There is a thread of life that links both sides.
It is unfortunate that our understanding of ethics and morality are often conflated. They actually imply very different things. If morality comprises the principles by which we live, then ethics is the living root that informs these principles. We need both. A morality that loses connection with its living root becomes fundamentalist and intolerant and ethics without structure has little to hold it. By conflating the two we do not appreciate the value of each. This has profound implications in how we map our future. How do we bring forward that which has held us secure for so long while at the same time having the courage to embrace that which is new and living and full of hope?
The best negotiations for peace, prosperity and sustainability always reflect the courage and wisdom of a living ethical and moral sensibility. Tapping deep into this living root authenticates the process for all parties allowing necessary compromise not to affect shallow and ineffectual outcomes.
One of the great challenges facing humankind is the increasing use of digital representations of reality. The power to capture, store and manipulate data has opened up far reaching possibilities. In the excitement of adopting new developments of this technology it is easy to miss its fundamental limitation. Essentially it is a dead medium that has no intrinsic life principle. Have you noticed when you are with someone and are used to feeling their presence and they decide to check emails on the computer? It feels like somebody died.
There is a dead numb presence in the house where before it felt alive.Recently I shared a dinner with a couple of friends who are in the artificial intelligence world and I asked them how the artificial intelligence community views the notion of presence. Is it possible for an artificial intelligence to understand and feel presence? There was no ready answer to my question. Personally I think artificial intelligence is an unfortunate term as it reduces intelligence to contrivance and manipulation and to my mind intelligence implies much more. In the early 90’s I met with some oxford based scientists who were busy creating an artificial neurone.
They found that digital structuring could only take them so far and that they needed to introduce an analogue interface. If you think about it there is no other way to emulate life but to introduce a fuzzy interface. However this does not change the fundamental flaw in the system. It only serves to obscure and make the result seem alive.
I think it was Woody Allen who said 80% of success is just turning up. The same could be said about life. To really turn up is to be present and the quality of our presence determines our level of participation. Life is sacrificed if we have an over bearing need to control and determine outcomes. There is innocence in just turning up, gratitude in being invited. I think we are still suffering our loss of innocence in choosing the tree of knowledge over the tree of life, long ago in Eden. Unbridled pursuit of knowledge marginalises life. It does not engender healthy relationships between us and the earth. The irony is we are still naked. We just don’t know it. We have clothed ourselves with layers of knowledge giving us the illusion that we know what we are doing.
Knowledge without a living root begets fear. As a child, I wondered why Adam and Eve knowing they were naked felt fear and the need to clothe themselves. Did God expel them from Eden or did they expel themselves? What is sure is some serious disconnect took place in our development and perhaps it is time to reconnect. My own sense of it is that there has always been an open invitation to go back to Eden but that we have to acknowledge the truth of our nakedness. There is no place for pretence. This does not mean forgetting what we now know. We can never go back to what we were. But it does mean piercing the illusion of our knowledge and taking responsibility for the truth of who we are. Believing our own lies that the emperor has clothes is a major hindrance.
I think in our hearts we know the truth, but the reality is just too much to bear. As T. S. Eliot says, ‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality’. So we dilute it, insulate ourselves from it, tell ourselves stories that it is okay and that we are not really that naked. There are very bright minds all over the world working on solving problems facing humanity. The applied effort and innovation is tremendous but all this creativity is severely hampered by inadequate frames of reference. Do we really believe that depleting the world’s resources in an unrestrained manner and the increasing disparity of wealth is going to end well? Last month the world paid tribute to Nelson Mandela and an unprecedented number of heads of state ‘turned up’ to attend his funeral. They came to honour goodness and in so doing touched goodness in themselves. Why is it so hard for us to harness this very human of qualities? Does it not give us the courage to face our fears and reach out to the other? This goodness can change the world if we can learn to act from it.
During the years of transition from apartheid to representative government in South Africa, Professor Ruth Purtilo conducted a study into what constituted moral courage amongst those persons who, at great risk to themselves, defied the regime. She conducted numerous interviews and participated as a witness on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. During the course of the study she discovered that persons of courage could not deny the truth and felt compelled to act. Yet none thought of themselves as courageous. There was an implicit humility in their actions. A deep commitment to what was right and just even though most of them thought that apartheid would not end in their lifetime. There was also a sense of camaraderie in being part of a greater cause. Professor Purtilo went on to demonstrate the importance of recognising moral courage in the less extreme circumstances of the caring professions.
So what is it that compels a person to embrace a truth and act against the odds? When is compromise a valid course of action? I believe our immediate challenge is to have the courage to face reality and allow the shock of it and the cleanness of it to embed in us. Then when the time comes for compromise and reasonableness, we still have access to the connective tissue that gives our actions meaning. It is also easier if we are part of a community that supports and recognises authentic action. There is a greater sense of being part of something good. Can you imagine a society that places a high value on moral courage in decision making? I feel excited by the possibility. People who lived through the London blitz in the Second World War have talked about the sense of togetherness and aliveness they felt in facing the adversity. Can we access this sense of togetherness and aliveness when we are not under a perceived immediate threat?
A phenomenon is taking place that is unique to our time. We are in an age of space time compression with shorter life cycles and the simultaneity of opposite forces creating an increasingly polarised world. What does it mean to hold the centre ground in the midst of such volatility? What does stability and sustainability mean in such a fast changing environment? Globalisation and new technologies are both symptomatic and causative of the changes. Yet we are not keeping pace and developing the skills and attitudes necessary to meet the challenge.
I believe an overhaul of what we value is long overdue. What is the role of the human being in a future world of robotics? How sustainable is massive wealth generation alongside increasing paucity. How do we seriously engage environmental degradation? We need to establish a new operational paradigm for the 21st century that redraws the map and brings into relief human value in greater proportion to other values.
Ask people what is most important to them and they will usually say their personal relationships. This loving, caring, relatedness should be used to recalibrate global priorities and help us establish a sustainable future. It is a tough love and hard work to change old habits, but it is worth making sacrifices for the richness of good relationships. The new paradigm will require us to manage the flux of ambiguity, uncertainty and diversity while holding the centre ground and being true to each other and the earth. We have to raise our game if we are going to shape our future rather than let is shape us.