by Terry Sterrenberg
How do millions of people live together in a city anyway? Many people would probably say “not very well”. Coming to a different answer is pretty difficult when I read and listen to the daily news. The Daily News reports every day that the world is literally falling part and people everywhere are fighting and shooting each other. But my life experience in NYC is quite different. There is actually a lot of cooperation, collaboration, and helpfulness going on, such as the lady on the subway who grabbed our map away from us and said “Where are you going? Here I’ll show you.” A typical New York way of helping. There is a lot of violence in the city and our world but there is a lot of “not violence” as well. If that were not true all the cities in world would be rubble. I’ve come to a new appreciation of the miracle of city life to bring so many diverse people together in peace, collaboration, and cooperation. Cooperation is a life and death proposition. Citizens of a community, city, or country have to cooperate in order to exist. Preservation of human life requires people learning to live together.
I’ve thought for some time that for humans to learn to live together requires a paradigm shift in human consciousness and caring. I also think that this shift includes a shift in social structures that allow caring communities to create a changing perception of human nature.
I’m struck by how we let others create so much fear and misperception and then that becomes the standard for how we determine what is true. I’m calling this group of fear mongering people “the other 1%”. Perhaps the percentage is more than 1%. I don’t know, but I do know that we put our selves in a kind of prison by creating rules and laws to protect ourselves from the object of those fears. We act as if that 1% is representing 100%.
One view of how change happens uses fear as the primary element. When people are afraid they lose their ability to experience the humanity of others. When we disagree in fear other people become threats. Instead of experiencing others as allies for solving problems other people become adversaries and enemies. They become the problem and we feel we must fight for our lives.
What if solving problems was the response for disagreement instead of protecting ourselves out of fear? Perhaps looking for common interest and problem solving is the natural response for self preservation instead of fighting out of fear.
At Ganas we recently had a workshop on permaculture where I learned that permaculture is not just about agriculture. Permaculture is about social and culture and life values as well. It may provide us with a social model as well as an agricultural model.
In nature the natural process of life is cyclical. from seed to growth to death, to decay. It is the decaying that produces new soil, and the soil is never lifeless. Perhaps it is in the soil where change in the ecosystem begins. Change always happens through new growth and the nutrients present in the soil, the water and the sunlight. Diversity of resources and plant life is key. Diversity of nutrients and plant life breeds choice, abundance, redundancy and cooperation. This is the opposite of competition. Competition in nature breeds a perception of scarcity, frenzy and death.
In forests there are also levels of foliage that grow. There is the soil and ground cover, there are low bushes, then the under story and then the canopy layer. If the canopy is thick then no sunlight can get through. The layers under the canopy need to be able to exist with less sunlight and more shade or they die. The canopy represents the old guard and deep roots of the original values and beliefs of a community. When the canopy is thick, new ideas and new plant life become stunted and die out. Change is slow or non existent. The traditional way of getting rid of the canopy is to cut it down ( armed revolution). The permaculture way for change is through pruning to provide sunlight for the lower layers and thus producing more growth and diversity and/or through expanding the forest by creating the conditions for new pioneer growth. It is sustainable because it uses the land and resources available that compliment and support each other. Problem solving is crucial and serves many functions in communities. Socially it is the main source of affinity, as well as the pathway for new energy into the community, It also is like the shears that create new space for light to shine through to the lower layers and it provides new nutrients to the soil in doing so.