How do you understand friendship, parenting, relating to colleagues, dealing with family members, neighbours, people you dislike? Go further, how do you relate to the town you live in, the land you live upon, the food you eat and the clothes you wear?
Humans do not exist in isolation. Everything we do connects us to other living beings, to humans and non-human animals, to plants to the land, and (for some of us) the gods. Everything we do has implications for those who will come after us. Most of those relationships we don’t give much thought to. In practical terms it’s very hard to be that aware of everything we interact with, all the time – a person could go mad trying. However, that’s not an excuse.
Ignorance is very comfortable. If we don’t let ourselves think, we don’t have to risk being unsettled, challenged or upset. Thinking about our many relationships and their implications is frequently uncomfortable. Who made our clothes, and how does their standard of living compare to ours? Who did we glare at today? Who were we short with, unkind to? How many creatures died today because of our actions, or inaction?
That’s the downside.
But when we think, and pay attention, our scope for action radically improves. Aware of more of our many relationships, we can take control of them, and shape them in more honourable ways. No one is going to be perfect in all things, but the sense of triumph that comes from doing better is something to promote and celebrate.
To offer an example. I’m a freecycle-er – it’s all run through egroups and it’s international, see if there is a group near you! When I don’t want something, and there’s some scope for it being used, I offer it to my local group rather than sending to landfill (thus improving my relationship with the land). Some nice person comes and takes it away (thus improving my relationship with my local community) there’s a moment of human interaction. Or, I find something I need and pick it up from another, offering gratitude in return for the item. There’s pleasure to be had in the giving, and receiving, in keeping things out of landfill, saving total strangers money, making people smile. It feels useful. It feels good.
There are so many ways in which we can have better relationships, but it begins by casting aside assumption. We’ve learned mistrust, treating strangers as potential muggers and rapists rather than potential friends. Where there is contact, compassion, listening and gentle, positive action, relationships become rich, nourishing things. Where we invest in relationship (with anything) there is soul nourishment, and we give ourselves the opportunity to be inspired. At the same time, we can also inspire others.
Turn off the television. Go outside. Smile at someone you don’t know. Stop for someone. Make time for something you wouldn’t normally bother with. Life is connection, and connection is inspiration.