Doing it right for a world gone wrong

By  Cathy Majtenyi, Catholic Register Special
  • May 1, 2009
{mosimage}Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy by Peter G. Brown and Geoffrey Garver (Berrett-Koehler, softcover, 216 pages, $21.95).

Reading Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy in Kenya is a powerful experience. Right and wrong relationship live side-by-side here — in technicolour. Wrong relationship is vividly illustrated by slums with no electricity or running water bumping up against the gates of the manicured lawns of this country’s elite.

Right relationship, as defined by the authors, “tends to preserve the integrity, resilience and beauty of the commonwealth of life.” The term’s early Quaker usage is expanded to incorporate scientific and economic concepts that more clearly illustrate what “integrity, resilience and beauty” look like — or how they are violated — in today’s world.

It’s a matter of people’s relationships with each other and with their environment.

Living in harmony with nature and with other human beings, consuming only what one needs, limiting the amount of waste individuals and societies generate and re-using and recycling materials, that’s right relationship. Walk into most Kenyan villages and you will see textbook examples. Houses are made of wood, mud, straw and anything else from the surrounding environment. There is a striking absence of plastic packaging and other waste. Kenyans have very creative uses for the few wastes that do exist. Farmers tend their crops and animals according to nature’s rhythms.

{sa 1576757625}By contrast, wrong relationship is all about human greed. We justify it with classical economic theories such as the law of supply and demand and a free market that supposedly distributes wealth efficiently.

Add to that a government accountable to no one and the results are devastating. Children gasp and wheeze their way through each day in the Nairobi slums of Dandora and Korogocho, where a huge dump of toxic waste oozes poison into the air and ground. Deforestation across Kenya to the point where less than 10 per cent of the country’s original forest cover remains means lakes and rivers are drying up. Thousands of Kenyans are starving because a cartel of politicians and distributors decided to reduce the supply of the staple corn crop so as to maximize their profits.

Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy is a brilliant analysis of how mainstream economics and politics create and actively encourage wrong relationship in the name of economic growth. The book also shows what can be — a just, fair world with respect for all forms of life, a world in which Gross National Happiness replaces Gross Domestic Product. The book even proposes creating new structures, such as a “Global Reserve” and “Trusteeships of Earth’s Commons,” to make this transformation a reality.

But the missing link in the book is the age-old question that perhaps cannot be answered in any book. How do you get human beings, from the president of the World Bank to the cobbler in the Nairobi slum of Kibera, to take personal responsibility for pursuing right relationship? How do you convince Kenyan politicians to put the interests of their constituents first, even if it means declining a huge bribe? What will motivate North Americans to limit their consumption in an environment which actively encourages greed?

Short of taking industrialists, bankers, politicians and even consumers on a tour of Dandora or Korogocho or Kibera, how do you get people everywhere in the world to realize the end result of choices based on greed and short-term gratification?

If we all pursued right relationship we could have an incredible transformation. How that will happen is the great unknown.  

(Majtenyi is a freelance writer in Nairobi, Kenya.)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.