Bridge and pathway

The 3 Skill Sets We Need for a Kinder Culture

(about a 6 minute read)

There are three core skill sets that I believe can help us be more effective in holding space for more compassionate, just, sustainable, and enjoyable ways of living and doing business.

Until I think of better names for them, I’m calling them: Internal Self-parenting Skills, Sustainable Living Skills, and Relationship Skills. In this article I summarize each of them.


1. Internal self-parenting skills

Whether or not you’re the parent of a child, if you’re old enough to be reading this article you’re probably old enough to have developed an internal “self-parenting” style.

The question is, are you conscious and deliberate about it, or is your self-parenting just a default echo of how you were parented as you grew up?

The story you grew up in

As a child, you didn’t get to choose the story you grew up in.

Was it a story of scarcity or abundance? Acceptance or judgement? Control or partnership? Seeking and seeding alternatives, or just toeing the line? Presence and connectedness, or neglect, absence, or violence? (Neglect and violence can take many forms, not just physical.)

The choices weren’t up to you.

shadow of child holding adult's hand

But now that you’re a grown up, you get to choose – partly because grown-ups get more choices than kids do, and also because adults can self-examine and self-determine in ways that children cannot. 

Have you chosen to exercise and develop your capacity for self-determination? Are you consciously present to your own growth as your own guide, gate-keeper, and most dedicated fan and supporter?

How do you go about engaging in your own ongoing growth and development?

There comes a point in life where you have to take ownership of your own care-taking — to consciously choose the kind of relationship you will have with yourself."

For me, self-parenting initially had a lot to do with examining my story—the story I grew up in—and questioning if it’s the kind of story I want to continue to live. Now, it has to do with letting go of that former story and cultivating a different, more empowering and enjoyable kind of story.

Cultivating a story of acceptance

If you grew up in the dominant world culture, you grew up in a story of control. There were other things in the story too, but control was a primary theme.

When we let go of the story of control, we make space for acceptance. Acceptance and forgiveness for our imperfect selves, for the mistakes our elders made, for the differences between us and others, for the messiness and mis-takes of life.

A story of acceptance, including self-acceptance, can show you that it wasn’t your fault, whatever went wrong when you were little.

white dove flying

A commitment to acceptance (as opposed to judgement and control) can also make space for solutions to whatever is wrong now to emerge more easily.

If you tend to it and live into it sincerely, the best you can, a story of acceptance makes space for complementary story lines of healing, wholeness, diversity, possibilities.

Acceptance—especially self-acceptance in whatever form that needs to take for you—is a crucial part of the answer to the question of how we are to grow ourselves up to be the adults that we need each other to be, that the earth needs us to be, now.

As within, so without

When you parent yourself deliberately and compassionately, with full acceptance of yourself and full awareness of the dynamics that have made you who you are as well as those that can support your continued growth, you equip yourself to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “as within, so without.” If you’re working or hoping for more justice and peace in the world around you while internally you’re still berating and controlling your own self, you’re sending an incongruent prayer out into the world.

The starting point is in here, not out there, and trying to sidestep the starting point is like trying to build a house without a foundation. It will never get off the ground. You’ll be wasting and misspending your personal power that could have been such a force for good in the world.

2. Sustainable living skills

I know I’m probably singing to the choir here, but I’ll sing it again anyway: we’ve lost the practical skills of self-reliance that sustained us before experts, institutions, corporations, supermarkets and superstores, Amazon, and Google took over providing for our needs.

When we stepped onto the linear production line of industrialized, institutionalized, and digitalized ways of providing and caring, we stepped out of the endlessly renewing cycle of life.

That’s why it’s so crucial that we re-learn and re-claim the skills we need to care for ourselves and each other in hands-on, low-tech, community-based, earth-based ways. (I have nothing against high tech. I love my laptop. But technology should serve us, not lead us.)

It's not only that restoring these skills will restore sovereignty and dignity to individuals, families, and communities. It's also that living in these ways will return us to our right place and role: nested within, and caring for, the cycle of life. 

To provide for ourselves and each other in earth-based ways is also to care for Earth, and for all of life, in ways that renew life rather than destroying it.

3. Relationship skills

To be alive is to be in relationship with all other life forms.

To be truly alive in a way that we might call “right living,” is to be connected and centered within the relationships, communities and ecosystems you are part of, with the understanding that you are both supported by them, and also responsible for how your actions impact them.

To exist only as an independent individual is… well, it is to be alone. It is to be outside the cycle of life – which, when you examine it closely, turns out to be a lonely and relatively impotent place to be.

Where to start?

In “How Normal Keeps Us from Being Fully Human,” I said that ideally, a human being would:

  • have grown up in a family and community where parents feel supported and children feel valued and wanted,
  • feel a strong sense of identity, belonging, and confidence in your ability to contribute to what you belong to,
  • be surrounded by family and extended family/community you know you can rely on,
  • know where your food comes from and have a relationship to the land it grows on and the hands that tend it, and
  • be in contact with nature daily, even hourly, not just on the weekends or on vacation.

Can you tick all those boxes? Nope, me neither.

Do you know very many other people who can tick all those boxes? Nope, me neither. In fact, I can't think of one single person I know who can tick all those boxes.  

So, lost as we are, where in the world shall we start in the quest to re-connect, to re-build and to nurture the web of relationship?

Answering that question is possibly my biggest personal challenge. Sometimes I wonder if the whole of the rest of my lifetime will be enough time for me to get a handle on this.

And I know I’m not alone. Loneliness is everywhere in our culture.

diverse garden with many different food plants and flowers

The extent of what “relationship” has come to mean in the dominant world culture

When I looked for images to illustrate the concept of “relationship” for this article, guess what the search engines gave me?

Yes, that’s right: young couples kissing or embracing, valentine’s day hearts, and the odd picture of a parent with a baby or very young child. That’s the extent of what “relationship” has come to mean to us.

What a terrible tragedy that is. The tragedy is not that we value young love or that babies still have the power to melt our hearts, but that that is all we have left.

Here is a bigger picture:

'All my relations' means all. ... Not just those people who look like you. ... Everyone. [It also means] everything that relies on air, water, sunlight ... for sustenance and perpetuation. It's recognition of the fact that we are all one body moving through time and space together.."

That’s why I chose a picture of a diverse garden to represent community and relationship: because I couldn’t find an image of people engaged in diverse relationships.

What I wish

In closing, I was about to write that I wish I could offer a universal ten-step formula for addressing the loneliness that touches all of us at this time on Earth.

Then I realized that even if I had a formula, I wouldn’t offer it. Formulas (at least as far as I understand them) are linear and linearity is characteristic of the energies that have brought us where we are today.

On further reflection, what I wish is this:

May you find your own ways to step off the conveyor belt and back into the circle, the cycle of life. Whether you use self-parenting practices, practical hands-on skills and strategies, relationship, or all three of them, may you find a path back into right relationship with all of life.

Please leave a comment...

Please leave a comment below and tell me how this landed for you?

  • donna devadoss says:

    Thank-you for making the world a better place.

    • Thank you, Donna, for your support.

  • Meg Evans says:

    Kate…I love the kindness & gentleness in your writing … as well as the age-old wisdom you’re expressing.
    I haven’t yet read Joanna Macy’s ‘Coming back to Life; The updated Guide to the Work that Reconnects’ but your words seem to fit perfectly.
    I have a strong need to practice all of your 3 skill sets, beginning with self…understanding (accepting) what happened not to blame but to slowly forgive & give myself compassion. This helps to loosen the constrictions I’ve lived with & to feel more kindness & empathy for others … to act more generously in the world and to be a community builder rather striving for self.
    To then be able to soothe myself whenever I feel the old tensions resurface allows those uncomfortable feelings to move through me far more quickly…if only I knew how to do this earlier in life!

    The self reliance skills, in particular growing food, is taking much longer to achieve and I have more patience with myself regarding this…slowly it is happening.
    The more I am embedded in the land to grow food the more I feel a connection to the land and my interdependence with it.
    I believe many more of us will be working the land with our own muscle power in the future, as cheap energy wanes and this will be a good thing for humans and the planet…for reconnection at all levels.

    We already live in the most beautiful of worlds yet through our human made systems of exploitation & extraction for excessive material comfort we have destroyed so much that sustains us and all of life.
    Is it a human trait that we only truly value what is precious when it’s gone? Gratitude now for what we still have seems very important.

    • Hi Meg, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

      What springs to mind in response to your question is that no, its not a HUMAN trait to only value what’s precious after its gone — it’s a MODERN HUMAN trait. We did value what is precious until we were conditioned not to. Indigenous people, first nations people around the world still value what’s precious, and they scratch their heads at our values. Around 8 to 10 thousand years of conditioning, since the beginning of agriculture and the “domination culture” we live in now, has taught us to value things that don’t actually make us truly happy. But when what’s precious is gone, or when we get a scare that we might lose it, for example when a loved one has a serious health scare, then suddenly what we truly value can come back into focus.

      And as you know, there are ways to identify what we truly value and bring it back into focus before we risk losing it. Ok, you’re right, we have lost some of what is precious and we are at risk of losing more.

      And, yes, gratitude for what we still have is super important… to focus only on what’s going wrong and what we’ve lost while trying to save what’s left would be a bit like working for justice while continuing to be un-just to ourselves internally. Hope that makes sense!

      If you feel like it, please let me know how that feels in response to your question?

      When I wrote The Stick, the Carrot, and the Gift, I promised to expand on that and related topics, and your question has prompted me to dig that out and work on it a bit more, so thank you!

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