The New, Old Idea of Partnership

Paradesia_decora by John Gerrard Keulemans (d.1912)

Paradesia_decora by John Gerrard Keulemans (d.1912)

When Darwin wrote The Descent of Man, he mentioned survival of the fittest twice and he mentioned the word love 95 times.

Marc Ian Barasch, Field Notes on the Compassionate Life, quoted from the movie, I Am

I grew up hearing about the survival of the fittest, accompanied by footage of rutting stags or bloodied bull elephant seals seemingly in mortal combat. The information that was delivered to me via church and school was that survival depended on a type of fitness measured by one’s ability to dominate, particularly in battle. And, it was always a dog eat dog world.

I found this quite terrifying since I was small, female and inclined to be polite, kind and compassionate. The only dog I would eat came from Oscar Meyer.

The Old Kid On The Block

In the early ’90s, I discovered storytelling, archetypes and lore of all kinds. One of my biblio-mentors was Dr. Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice & The Blade. I read this story, so deeply familiar, and yet so contradictory to the dogma of school and culture, with a sense of liberation and amazement. Suddenly, there was language for what I had always believed to be true – “fittest” meant something other than brute strength, cruelty or domination. What Dr. Eisler explained was, that which we considered to be the best of civilization had been birthed in the cradle of respect-based societies that she termed, Partnership Cultures.

The origins of Partnership Culture are shrouded in controversy. For much of contemporary archeology, it has been assumed that human social development centered around our ability to hunt and kill prey, and, to wage battle in order to effectively protect our clans from marauding tribes. The cultural adaptations and social interactions that are the natural result of raising relatively slow developing infants and children have traditionally been overlooked as a significant catalyst of human culture. The widespread assumption was that society had emerged out of economics and domination rather than caring and collaboration.

Archeologists like Marija Gimbutas and James Mellart produced significant evidence that paleolithic people lived in societies in which woman and men were accorded equal status and respect. In other words, we were egalitarian partners. In these communities, temples and palaces are noticeably absent and there are clear signs of spiritual attention being focussed in the direction of the feminine.

As noted by famed primatologist Frans de Waal, “evidence for warfare (such as graveyards with weapons embedded in a large number of skeletons) is entirely lacking from before the Agricultural Revolution of about 12,000 years ago.” (What Can Bonobos Tell Us about Ourselves?)

The Paleo Diet – It’s More Than Food

Most certainly you have heard of the Paleo diet – no grains, no dairy, no sugar, no alcohol – only food that paleolithic people would have eaten. This way of eating has been shown to offer significant health benefits. The paleo culture’s emphasis on respect and equality holds the potential to cure our social ills, as well.

Look at the issues our society ‘battles’ all of the time. There is violence in homes, schools, cities, and the world. There is seemingly intractable poverty. Everyday we hear about women and children being sold, violated or murdered, in our country and around the globe. The biodiversity of the planet is at risk as the sixth great extinction event in the history of earth is underway. Droughts, famines, floods and wildfires consume habitats of both humans and wildlife.

Who is strong enough to fight all of this?

No one.

Seen through the lens offered by Dr. Eisler, the conditions that make all of these problems possible is a dominator mindset. The way to conquer this is to change the rules of the game – to create a Partnership-based society. The archeological evidence tells us that we humans have lived this way before and contemporary neuroscience tells us that we are biologically wired to thrive in conditions of respect, compassion and kindness.

A New Recipe

We invest the most energy, money and time on people, activities or things that we value. This is our wealth. Currently, the mainstream belief is that being top dog, the one with the most money or power, is how we measure who is the “fittest” and the most valuable. Dr. Eisler, in partnership with a diverse group of panelists from business, philanthropy, economics, and care work advocacy has developed a new way of measuring wealth.

The conventional assumption has been that a strong economy and caring for people and nature are at odds. Social Wealth Economic Indicators (SWEIs) demolish that assumption. SWEIs show the benefits of investing in care, and the dismal consequences of devaluing it – not only for women (who still do most of the care work), children, the elderly, families, and the natural environment, but also for economic competitiveness.

Dr. Riane Eisler & the Caring Economy Campaign

The purpose of these social wealth economic indicators is to begin to shine the light on how a Partnership Culture unilaterally improves the bottom line for everyone. It is one way to illustrate the value, in dollars and sense, of operating from a basis of respect and equality.

The rest of the story is that operating from an egalitarian and respect-based perspective provides a roadmap for addressing violence, poverty and environmental domination. We are just at the beginning of this ancient, well-traveled road and it will be the fittest of us – in the best sense of the word – who are able to see it through to the end.

Get Fit

Becoming one of the fittest starts with knowledge, which creates awareness, which leads to action. What that action looks like is up to you. Here are some choices:

  1. Dr. Riane Eisler is the keynote speaker for the Central Coast Women’s Symposium on Saturday, March 14. Full details here. You can also visit the Central Coast Women’s Symposium’s Facebook page.
  2. I will be leading a 2 hour exploration of The Power of Partnership Culture through Cuesta College’s Community Programs on Monday, March 23. Become part of the conversation and meet like-minded partners in our community.
  3. Join the Center for Partnership Studies’ Community Advocates Program as part of the Caring Economy Campaign.