Who We R
The rWorld is a New England based, non-profit (in formation), that is composed of a growing number of people and organizations from many faith and ideological backgrounds worldwide. We believe that much of the fulfillment for which women and men – and families, neighborhoods organizations and nations – are looking can be found by enhancing the quality of our relationships. While the individual freedom we enjoy in the West is a gift, the love and intimacy for which humans yearn will not be found in self-serving materialism or hedonism, but in a variety of healthy relationships.
By way of introduction you will find below a brief explanation of our vision, our core-concepts, and our approach to thinking about the rWorld (Relational World).
If you find any of these ideas of interest we would welcome a dialogue with you, and if you find yourself drawn to this way of approaching life, we would welcome you to join us on this journey of thought and exploration.
All over the world, relationships are in trouble. Families are becoming more fragmented due to migration, divorce and urbanization. Ethnic tensions continue to simmer beneath the surface of many nations where ethnic identity runs deeper than national belonging. In companies, relationships between owners, managers and workers are becoming more distant and functional, and public services are frequently prone to disruption due to poor working relationships. The hard reality is that economic prosperity often goes hand in hand with mounting relational poverty.
What has gone wrong? While there are many contributing factors, we believe that underlying them is a flawed perception of reality, namely that life is ultimately about personal fulfillment and material wealth. This belief that individualism and materialism will bring us a full and satisfying life means we tend to downgrade or even sacrifice other goals and values – particularly our relationships.
By contrast, we believe that wellbeing and happiness ultimately depend on our relationships – not only our close family ones, but our relationships with people at work, in our neighborhood, with public service providers and even strangers. If we have thriving relationships in these areas, then we are much more able to cope with economic hardship or severe illness; whereas money is little consolation if our closest relationships collapse.
Although relationships is a “soft” term, meaning different things to different people, we believe nonetheless that it is possible to begin measuring the quality of relationships in a meaningful way, and to assess relational poverty or health. In our work, we are identifying ways to respond to relational poverty and pressure, and increase relational wellbeing at the personal, family, community, organizational and national levels.
We are convinced that personal and social wellbeing depends upon the quality of relationships within families and communities, and within and between organizations. We believe that building a society that sustains relationships requires recognizing the importance of:
Family networks – for the love, support and welfare of the individual. Stable family life benefits adults and children in terms of both emotional and practical support. Families have a wide range of care and welfare responsibilities, particularly for children, partners and elderly relatives. The extended family has a vital role in supporting marriage and the nuclear family, and as a mediating institution between individuals and the state.
Personal and family rootedness – to build strong communities. Rootedness involves length of time in cities, towns and neighborhoods, a sense of belonging and practical involvement. Rootedness is important for personal wellbeing, access to support networks, and for the ability to participate fully in community life.
A shared culture – to foster inclusion and cohesion. A shared culture that can embrace diversity and includes respect for liberty of conscience is needed to support both cohesion and inclusion.
Justice and reconciliation – as the basis for achieving peace and social harmony. This applies to personal, corporate, regional, ethnic and international relationships. Building peace requires encouraging reconciliation, restoring relationships and addressing the many factors that contribute to their breakdown.
The wide spread of political power and economic assets – to promote accountability and community development. Distant decision making and financial dependence can inhibit both responsiveness to local needs and responsibility for addressing them. The desire for greater local responsibility can be in tension with the concern for ensuring quality and equity at a wider level. Where decisions or controls need to be located at higher levels, this should be done in ways that support local capacity and responsibility.
The use of money and other resources, and the structuring of financial systems – to foster healthy commercial, social and international relations. Finance shapes relationships in many ways, for example through the impact of debt, capital flows, investment and spending patterns. Ownership involves responsibilities, and resources should be used in ways that strengthen relationships rather than undermining them.
Influencing organizations to think relationally – to uphold a social environment in which relationships thrive. Relationships can be fostered or undermined by government, and by public and private sector organizations’ policies and actions. The strategy, structure, culture and working practices of an organization should be conducive to the flourishing of relationships, both within that organization and in wider society.
Fulfilling duties – particularly to those who are disadvantaged either relationally or materially. Rights must be balanced by duties and obligations. People are responsible both for their own relationships and for the impact of their actions on others. Relational deprivation is as serious as material deprivation, and there is a particular duty to care for those who lack supportive relationships.
Learning to think relationally is the first step towards building a more relational world. There are three main elements to Relational Thinking: learning to look at the entirety of life through a relational lens, changing the goals of our lives, and all of our relationships (public and private), and developing an analytical framework appropriate to relationships.
1. A Relational Lens. This means learning to see life from the perspective of relationships, as opposed to seeing it from the viewpoint of materialism or individualism. Instead of assuming that income or profit should generally be the ultimate goal for personal, corporate or government decisions, we argue for relational wellbeing instead – since ultimately our relationships are what matter most in life. Learning to think relationally calls for a Copernican revolution: instead of placing material wealth, or individual rights and freedom, at the centre of our metaphysical solar system, with all other things – including relationships – revolving around them, we place relationships at the centre, to reflect better what we ultimately value.
As an example, take the decision to buy a microwave oven: we may consider the decision financially (can I afford it?), or spatially (is there room in the kitchen?), or environmentally (how does this affect my carbon footprint?) – but what about relationally? Having a microwave could either enhance or lower relational wellbeing in the household. Reducing the time spent on preparing food could either permit more time for talking together over the meal, or else lead to family members eating at different times and not talking together at all. Looking at the decision through a relational lens will bring this dimension into perspective.
2. Changed Goals. Relational Thinking leads to changing the priorities and goals of our lives and all of our relationships.
At the government level, Robert Kennedy pointed vividly to the inadequacies of using GDP to measure the quality of life in a nation. Relational Thinking challenges the assumption of the prevailing economic paradigm that it is best to pursue economic growth at whatever social cost, and then pick up the pieces of poverty and broken families afterwards through tax and redistribution policies. An alternative approach, which puts relational priorities first, would seek to protect families and communities while pursuing growth, and thus avoid the need for subsequent redistribution and social intervention.
Changed priorities in schools would mean no longer aiming to maximise the potential of each child, expressed in terms of economic or individual achievement. Instead, the first priority of schools would be to ensure that by the time young people leave, they are able to relate well to others, prepared to take responsibility, ready to contribute to the wellbeing of their family and community (both local and global), and knowing what it takes to build a lifelong, committed relationship with someone of the opposite sex.
Alternative goals based on relational thinking in the criminal justice system would have far-reaching consequences. Instead of the system aiming simply at retribution, or at rehabilitation of offenders, the primary goal would be to reconcile relationships between offenders and the victims of their crimes, permitting them to be restored into responsible membership of their community.
Relational businesses would no longer have the primary goal of maximising “shareholder value”, at whatever cost to the other stakeholders. Recognising that there is more to sustainability than short-term profits, a relational company would seek to maximise relational wellbeing among all the stakeholders. Financial returns remain important, but are no longer the “bottom line”; profit would be seen as an important element in building good relationships.
3. A framework for analysis. The corporate world has a well developed framework and vocabulary for analyzing business and finance: budgets and balance sheets, profit and loss accounts, assets and liabilities, cash flow, debt to equity ratios etc. Managers use these every day. But in the realm of relationships, we need fresh categories and vocabulary to allow us objectively and accurately to describe and analyze what is happening to relationships. The following principles for analyzing relationships were originally outlined in Michael Schluter And David Lee’s book, The R Factor and subsequently developed into the “Relational Proximity” model by our partner organization, the Relationships Foundation. It is based on 5 key characteristics:
Directness considers the degree of presence in a relationship, and how that is mediated by technology (email, phone, texting etc.), time and other people.
Continuity: since time is the currency of relationships, continuity looks at how much time is spent on a relationship, as well as its overall length and stability.
Multiplexity examines the breadth of knowledge in relationships, especially of people outside work: family roles, hobbies, community involvement, past experiences.
Parity deals with power in relationships; differentials may exist but do they foster participation and respect, or are relationships poorer through misuse of power?
Commonality considers the extent to which goals and/or identity are shared; where they diverge, especially through hidden agendas, tension is created in relationships.