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Bryce Canyon, Utah

“These two dimensions — enacting the world as a commons through reciprocity with all beings, and experiencing this sharing relationship as my own and others’ aliveness, and hence the cosmos’ true character — cannot be separated. Only when we understand that the metabolic process through which we participate in the ongoing life is an emotional experience for all who are implied in this, can we proceed from the attempt to efficiently distribute objects to truly engage in an exchange with kin. Only then can we belong to family.

An aboriginal person, asked about her relationship to country, answers: “This rock is me.” Having an identity is derived from belonging. Through this, the human experience of beauty can be explained as the experience of being loved as part of family, the experience of one’s own love for that family or a particular member of it, and one’s desire to sustain that family, to give back.” — Andreas Weber

The feeling of relatedness changes from culture to culture. The Anglo-American sense of family seems smaller to me than some other cultures I’ve experienced. Latin cultures register degrees of closeness in their language. Friends and family are addressed in a familiar form, and at least in my generation, care is taken to exclude people you could never trust or be close to. But nobody’s feelings are hurt by being kept at a grammatical arm’s length.

Of course there are quirky people who stick with the Vous/Usted form even with a married partner. It’s not just a signal of distance, but also respect. I guess familiarity is seen to breed contempt and their language offers a handy tool to deal with it.

But I haven’t noticed those cultures extending more familial consideration to nature. They may apply their aesthetic sensibilities to landscape design to achieve a romantic feel, for example. I personally prefer the tendency of the Brits to leave areas of wildness instead of controlling every last inch of natural growth like the Latin cultures do.

Our modern consciousness uses nature for money and excludes the idea that nature can suffer, that it is in fact suffering from the depredations of our kind.

How we treat nature is how we treat our own natural being — our bodies and emotions. If we see nature as a machine, we will see our bodies as machines. Primitives, on the other hand, see intelligence everywhere, even in stones. Everything is alive to them, with its own spirit and soul. I think it’s unfortunate that we have grown too smart for that kind of thinking.

Our lack of respect for other life forms extends unconsciously to our own natural selves and to the natural world that sustains us. However, there is a time limit on that lifestyle. We can’t proceed to devastate nature and escape unscathed ourselves. Strangely enough, there is a large contingency that will be shocked by the inevitable blowback.

People might be amused by the idea that we are all related, that we belong to one huge family, that it behooves us to treat all things as if they are close friends and family.

English dropped the familiar forms and kept the formal ones.

Does that mean English speakers must maintain a greater emotional distance than speakers of languages which have kept a distinct way of addressing friends and family? If your language doesn’t have a word for something, can you see or experience it? I will say that I miss the linguistic tool French gave me for sorting out degrees of closeness to others.

Further, it seems to me the human family needs to rediscover its consanguinity with the prodigious array of lifeforms it is part of. Not doing so is beginning to look dangerous and foolish.

Written by

I occasionally write fiction and also about creativity, loving, language learning and travel. I’m a longtime painter and reader.

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