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Whatever landscape a child is exposed to early on that will be the sort of gauze through which he or she sees all the world afterwards.

—Wallace Stegner  

It often feels as though we’ve abused the ecological connections amongst ourselves as much as we’ve run down those responsible for weaving this planet together.  

If we can imagine the flows and connections which knit together a healthy ecosystem, we can observe how many of those connections have been degraded in our own exchanges. And even though many envision humanity as separate from the rest of our world and immune to its “rules and regulations”, we are an integral part—not simply creating an impact on the world but experiencing the same ecological laws in our own lives. If metaphors—and the actual social, environmental, economic and political challenges—that tsunamis, hurricanes and floods have presented over the past year are no lesson, what are the questions we can continue asking not only about our place in the world but our interactions with one another? What kind of a landscape—both physical and political—are we bequeathing to the next generation? 

How do we talk to one another—as individuals, as organizations, in the civic or community arena? How, in any community, any country, or in the world, are we one people—concerned about making meaning, our families, the health of our communities? Can we seek “the highest common denominator” and speak about what’s important and how we hold the big imponderable questions in our lives? Our views should not be so rigid or inviolable that we can’t acknowledge another’s perspective—or another person—and speak with civility in seeking common ground, or the place that Rumi envisions, that: “Out beyond ideas of right-doing or wrong-doing there is a field; I’ll meet you there.” 

Where do we begin to restore the ecosystem of our relationships with one another, on a local or national level? When do we learn ways to use our ideas and how we communicate them in a different manner? It may be that a good first step is silence, even if only a brief pause before speaking what is being thought. Then perhaps, we can see what is missing and begin to build a new ecology of interaction, of community-building, and of social movements. 

This new perspective requires a different kind of reinvestment in our communities and organizations, in working with people one-on-one and in groups to build the skills that help reinvigorate civic dialogue and promote creative problem-solving.  

January 2006