Social Roots & Rootlessness

What Fenris said in the Permaculture Cities thread about schools constantly forming classes then breaking them up again crashed the cymbals in my brain about this topic.

In our way of life, students leave for college and never come back, and military or corporate families constantly move for new jobs. Normal, regular stuff, no big deal, exciting, even, certainly not tragic! Our culture wires us to give up on relationships easily and keep our links weak. Obviously, not everyone falls victim. I just mean to say, we have so many such mechanisms in place. I think just recognizing that, seeing the monster in its true form, helps rewild us.

Last summer, someone told me the story of The Giving Tree (I’d never heard it before–a twisted, fucked up tale if you ask me) in the context of kids saying goodbye to their high school friends and teachers (and places/homes), relationships that nurtured and fed them for years, and “launching into life”–just chopping the whole tree right down. Soon afterwards, the tears started rolling. I couldn’t stop them. Something had just cracked, deep in my armor of denial about the hurts civilization wreaks on our hearts and lives.

I don’t know what it means to have a lifelong friend. I moved away after college and now have started a family of my own with no family (of origin) in town. Now even my new family lives in 2 separate houses. Hundreds of families live the same way, all around me.

For Pete’s sake, let’s figure out how to heal this sad, broken thing! Maybe it will take hunting down, naming, and chopping off the monster’s many heads. . .

You know… I’ve found that I purposely keep links weak, or, I don’t even give them a chance often to develop into strong links. Does it come from thinking that in another year I probably won’t even see/interact with this person again, so why go through the trouble and pain of ending it? Or do I want to keep myself ‘free’ and unrooted like a tumbleweed, so that I can up and leave for now. I have the same feeling with the land here, should I really immerse myself in getting to know the area, if next year I won’t even live here? I really do want to root myself, one day, but I feel like when I do I will do for good, so that I don’t want to root myself in a place and time where I don’t want to as I don’t want to go through getting uprooted! But… does this lack of strong links affect my ability to even really make them? I think so too…
A double edged knife.

I think it was actually my comment about forming classes and then breaking them up, but it doesn’t matter, the idea is the same whoever said it. I totally understand what you’re saying, and feel it so much. I will probably never see most of my friends again once I leave high-school, I’m thinking about going to a two year grade twelve program, and I’m concerned about leaving all my friends behind, but everybody tells me I’d make new friends. I guess you have to be willing to move on, but there is something to be said for really getting to know people over a lifetime too.

Then again, I could stay in Calgary if I wanted too, I could go to the same university as some of my friends, but I guess I have to chose between that and the university program I want. I guess I could see what you were saying back in the permaculture cities thread about how it is better to have a steady group of friends than be able to find a niche where you just fit in on the surface.

Fortune has blessed me with a very good lifelong friend, who I’ve known since kindergarten. Furthermore, I grew up in one house for all my life, so I have a “home” in a real sense of place. I think because of this, I’ve been able to make a lot of good, strong friends who I hope to stay friends with for a long, long time. The trouble I find now, however, is that many of my good friends live in places all around the globe – Sweden, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Georgia… and with graduation imminent, I fear that distance will grow between me and many of my friends.

It’s really terrible, the way moving means nothing. I was in a relationship with a girl who had moved around her entire life and knew no one place she called home and, likewise, told me that she felt transient… she didn’t have any long-time friends and she seemed less likely or able to try to maintain relationships that she felt wouldn’t last.

Yarrow dreamer, you’re right. What an awful way to live! Makes me wish I could just invite my friends together in one place so we could all live together – but each of us knows “home” in so many different places that we’d probably have trouble figuring out where to relocate (not to mention a lack of moneys).

I have the opposite problem. Having grown up in a small town, I still get uncomfortable when I think about how I can spend all day out in public and not run into a single person I know… so I try to make my weak links artificially stronger. I overdo it most of the time, and then I get disappointed when/if the link dissolves.

Aaaack! Rebecca, when I’d lived here long enough to start running into people I “know” in my travels about town, I thought “ah! now I have ‘roots’ here”. Community. A network. When it fact, those shallow acquaintances just indicated a thin crust of evidence of brief and undeveloped encounters with a wide group of people.

On a totally different note, I think starting this thread sent out loud reverberations. My tight crew from high school, most of whom I never saw again after leaving town, just hunted me down and found me!!! Out of the blue. Freaky.

Wow. Do they still keep in touch? Is there a reunion coming up or something?

Today one of my old h.s. friends sent me a friend request on Facebook. But I don’t consider her a friend any more (isn’t that sad?). Maybe she was never really a friend in the first place (I always found her incredibly boring to talk to, most of my high school social life entailed waiting until college to meet people who might be able to understand me) … I don’t want to be in contact with her because if she finds out how much I’ve changed in such an unorthodox way, she’ll tell other people about it with no thought for how they will receive it, and that will start a very juicy rumor mill around town. People will probably be calling me a satanist, and it will hurt my parents’ reputation.

I don’t want to believe that one of my oldest “friends” would cause this to happen, but I have to be realistic here.

Sad but true. This is how small towns work when it comes to anything outside of Christian “values.”

One side of me doesn’t want people to be gossiping about me. The other side says, “Who cares about that stupid town.” Yet there are some things about it that I do care about … like the fact that I run into people that I know all the time when I am there… as opposed to the city of strangers.

Feeling conflicted. :-\

Hmmm… Yeah, that is kind of why I think that cities still have some value. You don’t have the closeness of relationships, but you do have a more open atmosphere. I’m not saying all small towns are really closed, but from my small experience, that is sometimes the case. I wonder if there is a trade off between strength of relationships and the openness of relationships to new ideas.

Ha … in civ, there’s always a trade-off. A catch, if you will… You have to break yourself into fragments and give up some of them if you want to keep others. I’m reminded of Derrick Jensen… didn’t he call it “selling your own chopped-off fingers”? Those whose wild souls refuse to shatter “fail” by civ’s standards.

sorry, i’m not well-versed in jensen (yet!), but could you elaborate or clarify what this means?

i’m currently coming to terms with this. i know NO absolutely no one, and no one knows me. when i was growing up, i had a very close friend all the way through school. when i dropped out, we blew out (over that and other decisions). she’s gone on, contacted me once to show off her master’s degree and such accomplishments, but neither of us tried to reclaim what we once had. we were literally like sisters.

i’ve always wondered why people would willingly give up the people that they can rely on. personal growth aside, and proving that you can survive (which is what those ‘walkabout’ things are for, i think) what good does it do to rip yourself out of the ground every five years for a few more dollars? i just don’t get it, and that coupled with being introverted and feeling that any fleeting associations are not worth the time one would put into them, have resulted in a state of solitude. although i can live, and sometimes enjoy it, i do wonder if the rest of my life will be spent like this. will i ever find my tribe? and if so, will it get ‘promoted’ out of existence?

Yeah, I wonder a lot about this too.

I just read an article by Francis Weller on I thought she had some really important things to say about the technology of belonging. I can’t resist. I gotta post this long quote from it:

The Roots of Our Belonging: Belonging is a fundamental need to the psyche. Belonging initiates a sequence of unfolding that drops us further and further into the world, into her folds and features. We become participants in the ritual of life rather than dispassionate spectators living “lives of quiet desperation” as Thoreau observed. Belonging confirms a sense of mattering that quiets the ghosts of exclusion and stills the questions of adequacy. After 25 years as a psychotherapist, I can tell you with no hesitation, that this culture has failed in instilling into our people a feeling of belonging. The reason I feel this is so vital to our attention is reflected in a stanza again, from William Stafford.[color=black] [I think this little verse describes what the anonymity of city life does to us really well–y.d.][/color]

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

Traditional cultures around the world have much to teach us about this fundamental need. They have developed an exquisite “technology of belonging” that carries a person throughout their lifetime, reaffirming their place within the community. This tells us something extremely important: belonging is fragile and is very prone to rupture. In other words, the felt sense of belonging requires frequent confirmation, which was the basis of ritual life among indigenous peoples. From birth, (even prior to conception) through death and into the realm of the ancestors, your place in the community was continually assured.

It is in the context of belonging that our deepest self emerges. There is a beautiful saying among a South African tribe that says, “I am, because we are.” Now think about that. I am, because we are. My sense of self is directly related to the depth of my being known, being an integral part of the whole. Contrast this with our western correlate: I think, therefore I am. Where are the others? And by others I also mean the animals, clouds, wind, rose, coyote yip, lichen, valley oak. Our sense of identity is shaped by relationship and this is predicated upon belonging. This need of the psyche to feel embedded within the holding space of multiple individuals is ancient. It was in that specific context that our psyches were shaped and it is what we expected upon our arrival here. When this familiarity is set, then the “primary satisfactions” of the soul are fulfilled. This is a critical understanding for us today.

In the absence of these primary satisfactions, (touch, comforting, embodiment, sensuous surrounds of fragrance, color, tastes, intimacies with the natural world, multiple reflections from the community) our attention moves to secondary forms of filling the need for belonging. We strive for success, wealth, prestige, we seek to gather material goods, bigger houses, multiple hummers, we become addicted to power, status or drugs, alcohol, all in an effort to fill what cannot be satisfied except through the experience of true homecoming. As our one-dimensional corporate fantasy spreads across the planet while simultaneously dislodging the social and spiritual base of traditional peoples, the clamoring for secondary satisfactions will increase, much to the pleasure of these corporate interests, but much to the dismay of our beleaguered planet. The earth cannot sustain attempts to fill the emptiness left when the essential need for belonging is aborted.

I see this as one of your central tasks: to translate your passions, your learning, and your particular strand of the thread into a new “technology of belonging.”. . . You each carry a filament in the reweaving of the fabric of belonging and it gives me hope.

Wow! “Belonging technology”, “secondary satisfactions”, and a verse by William Stafford, Oregon’s Poet Laureate!

Too cool! Thanks Yarrow Dreamer! Lots to digest.