Our family recently lost a relative. She was a young adult who struggled early in life with her mental state and very recently was encouraged by her case worker to move out from living with her mother to live on her own as part of her re-integration. I personally was in conflict with that decision. When I heard of it, I was struggling to understand why it would be to the best interest of someone who obviously needs someone else to support her healing, to live on her own.
Growing up in the Philippines where our culture is deeply ingrained in taking care of others, I struggled hard with the Western approach of “hyper independence”. I remember the first time I was told that it was best for our baby to sleep on her own bedroom under the premise of promoting early independence, I almost lost it.
How is it even fathomable to leave a new born in an empty room with just a baby monitor to accompany it throughout the night?
How is it even possible for parents to get into such a disconnection so early on in their relationship with their baby?
For the past 15 years that I have been living in The Netherlands I have witnessed how this colonial mentality of independence and individualism has eroded a vital part of human existence- the importance of communities. Reflecting at the recent loss, I can’t keep myself from wondering “why is it that we perpetuate the belief that independence is an ideal end state for us adults?” Isn’t it that we, at the end of our lives wish that we have family, friends, community around us? I have not heard of people happily wishing to die on their own or happy to die knowing that they lived independently.
Like what Shawn Ginwright author of the book “The Four Pivots: Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Ourselves” wrote
“The systems that we have created are destroying our capacity to live in our full humanity.”
Living the colonial practice of individualism is hurting us, hurting our humanity. Specially when there are systems put in place to penalize people if they cared for by others.
Perhaps, this preoccupation in individualism, is in part due to psychologists like Maslow who put the pinnacle of human needs as “self-actualization”. What was lost in his translation of the Siksika’s practices was how self-actualization was our birthmark. We are all born self-actualized and it is through community actualization that we achieve cultural perpetuity.
“Relating to people as inherently wise involves trusting them and granting them space to express who they are (as perhaps manifested by the permissiveness with which the Siksika raise their children) rather than making them the best they can be.” - Teju Ravilochan
From the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, "we are INTERBEINGS." We are community beings.
Our survival and the ways we can flourish in life relies not on hyperindividualism or this incessant need for separation. Rather it is through togetherness and being with others that we find satisfaction and fullness in life. It is also through community that we find liberation and healing. The systems of care that we establish help us in our recovery.
“Care is our collective capacity to express concern and empathy for one another. It requires that we act in ways that protect, defend, and advance the dignity of all human beings, animals and the environment.” - Dr. Shawn Ginwright
Our systems of care start with our circles of relationship. These are people in our lives who we love, trust, feel deep belonging and care. These are people who we keep closely in our hearts and our hearts in theirs. I remember when I started my path to healing from breast cancer, my first exploration was, who are in my innermost circle? This question was propelled by an experience where after a bout of chemo, I started feeling ill and my husband and I had to ask ourselves
“who are the people that we can call at 3am to take care of our kids while I needed to be rushed to the emergency room?”
"Who are our people?"
I am fortunate that throughout the past 8 years after my breast cancer ordeal, I now have a strong community of friends, family and chosen families around me. As a Filipina in diaspora, I have embarked into a long road of re-weaving myself into community- a community that I got to choose and nurture. This started with creating a system of care around me.
Who are in your systems of care?
And how can you create a system of care?
Here are some top of heart and mind ideas:
1. Define what a system of care looks like, sounds like, feels like for you. This can look, sound, and feel different for each person, how can you operationalize this to fit your experiences, your longings and needs?
2. Make your system of care visible. You can do this by mapping out your circles of connection. Use this tool to help you visualize who are the people that you connect with on a regular basis. This full toolkit has prompts for you to reflect on after you have done your mapping. Please know that seeing your map might be triggering. Pay attention to thoughts, sensations and emotions coming up for you and find ways to ground yourself when you are feeling disregulated.
3. Intentionally design your day to day to include the question “who would I like to connect with for today?” Communities are formed through relationships. Relationships are deepened through nurturance. Our efforts to sustain quality interpersonal relationships shape our relationships with others.
Re-weaving ourselves back into community starts with addressing one of the crucial roots of our disconnection and that is reframing our mindset around independence to one of interdependence. When we stop perpetuating that independence is the ideal state and start encouraging togetherness, belonging and care, we begin to shift the systems we now have that are corrupting our humanity. We start to heal and re-weave ourselves in community. Healing comes from being in community. It is through our systems of care that we find ourselves and our fullness mirrored back to us.
This is what indigenous societies have been living and promoting. The Mayan term “In Lak’ech Ala K'in” means “you are my other me”. It is similar to the Filipino term, “kapwa” which speaks of our shared humanity where the “ako” (self) and “iba sa akin”(others) are one and the same. The South African term “Ubuntu” also speaks of this oneness with others. It means that humanness is found through our interdependence, our collective engagement and service to others.
Perhaps if we start shifting our mindsets to that of oneness with others, we also begin to create institutions that promote care, belonging and healing. This in turn can blossom into cultures where caring for each other is a norm and not an ideal state.