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The Necessity of Moving From a Me to a We Culture

We need a new relational narrative.

Key points

  • Shifting from the individual to relational paradigm is essential for human and planetary survival.
  • Paradigm shifts are evolutionary and drive by agents of scientific, cultural, and philosophical change.
  • In this world view, relational well-being is the source of emotional and mental well-being.
Photo by fotografierende from Pexels
Source: Photo by fotografierende from Pexels

The narrative of the individual has been the dominant voice in our culture since the birth of the Enlightenment (“I think, therefore I am.”) Each person was reared to individuate, become autonomous, self-reliant, and high achieving. It has been a glorious age of the individual – celebrating our break from the tyrannical shackles of monarchy to individual freedom and creative expression that resulted in dizzying achievements in science, technology, and education.

Yet, the byproducts of the individual focus are culminating at warp speed. While necessary and good at the time, the individual narrative has also created a world of power and privilege, gross inequality, and environmental trauma. The high divorce rate, the increased conflict between political parties and nations, and the resulting economic instability within the family, and between cities and nations, are alarming. We cannot continue along our current trajectory and are now at a moment of crisis where either the system collapses, or a new paradigm emerges. We believe the latter is happening, that we are moving towards a more just world where we embrace the whole, instead of just the parts, in the service of human and planetary survival. It is an innate pull that is reflective of our most fundamental level where relationship – rather than the individual – is front and center.

However, we are pushing back this unknown and fumbling on how to do it. “Relational intelligence” is a missing course in our cultural curriculum. While mass-market books abound, there is no national public education forum on how to be in relationship. The concept of self-help—and all of its expressions—still dominate the mainstream. What has become clear for us is that we need a new relational narrative, a paradigm shift away from a culture that emphasizes the primacy of the individual and competition, a “Me Generation,” to a relational culture that collaborates and cooperates, a “We Generation.”

A Paradigm Shift

What is a paradigm and what is meant by a paradigm shift? A paradigm is a mental model, a way of seeing, a filter of one's perceptions, a frame of reference. A paradigm is a set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitute a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them, especially in an intellectual discipline.

Paradigm shifts do not just happen. They are evolutionary, driven by agents of change—scientific, cultural, and philosophical. Paradigms change when they no longer function to organize new experiences, new perceptions, and new discoveries. When they cease to be able to integrate the new, a fundamental shift takes place and our view of the world is profoundly transformed.

The individual paradigm that has dominated western culture for centuries, posits the individual as foundational. Things from atoms to persons exist as independent objects and are ontologically separated from other things. Our bodies are separate from our minds. We are autonomous and independent. Our subjectivity precedes and gives birth to relationship. The individual, like the particle, is the primary reality—relationship is secondary.

But a new oscillation—from the age of the individual to the age of relationship—is now being witnessed. The self is not a substance with features that can be observed; it is a constantly changing oscillation between energies. We are born in relationship, live in relationship, suffer in relationship, and are transformed in relationship. In this world view, relational well-being is the source of emotional and mental well-being, not the other way around.

The catalyst of the age of relationship can be located in the 20th century when quantum mechanics envisioned a universe that is interconnected, interactive, and responsive to observation. The current oscillation appears to be towards a new form of community, a conscious tribe, recognizing that we are all joined in the web of life and that the welfare of one is dependent upon the welfare of all. Whereas the old relationship based on the individual paradigm is vertical, unequal, and abusive, this new relationship, grounded in the relational paradigm, is horizontal, equal, and healing.

We need to remove the illusion of separation and embrace relationship. It is time for a healthy relational narrative to produce a relational society—and ultimately world—operating with an innate understanding that the welfare of the whole serves the best interests of the self. Looking at the universe through this relational lens is our salvation because it is who and what we are. In this new world, we accept difference as reality rather than frustration and welcome the unfamiliar with curiosity rather than judgment. Living this reality gives birth to a new, expanded culture that promotes collaboration, co-creation, and cooperation.

Finally, a relational narrative is a way of life, a way of being with others. It is how we live together in all our interactions with others. It is our hope that this blog as an instance of a relational narrative facilitates the emergence of a relational civilization in which the value system is universal freedom, inclusive equality, celebration of diversity and radical inclusiveness—the next stage in human evolution.

More from Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., and Helen LaKelly Hunt Ph.D.
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