Secret Kinship With The Other

Richard Powers

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Perhaps genes aren’t the only thing that we’ve been shaped to try and save. Maybe altruism evolves to recognize affinity, joint purpose, shared values. Maybe nothing elicits a sense of relatedness more deeply than feeling our dependence on other living things. A predator depends entirely on its prey; that, too, is a kind of blood bond. [...]

I am a novelist. All day long, I try to inhabit the hearts and souls of people who have never existed in the hopes that existing people might find, in these made-up lives, fictive kin who resemble their friends and provisional families in that realm of consensual fiction that we call the real world. In my fiction, kinship forms through conflict. Through the play of dramatic tension between seemingly inimical values, my characters come to recognize the keys to themselves that others hold.

Secret kinship with the Other—even with the ultimate enemy—is the lifeblood of fiction. (Surely you had to suspect, with a name like Darth Vader, a coefficient of genetic relationship hiding somewhere in the closet?) Leslie Fiedler once made the case that a great number of the canonical works of American literature have involved a plot in which a white person and a nonwhite person, thrown together in emergency, develop mutual dependence. Fiction challenges the barrier between “us” and “them.” It puts relations through the wringer, mangles them, and leaves the idea of family flattened but so much larger.

We’re now in the middle of a family emergency that will test all family ties. Only kin, and lots of it, from every corner of creation will help us much in the terrible years to come. We will need tales of forgiveness and surprise recollection, tales in which the humans and the nonhumans each hold half a locket. Only stories will help us to rejoin human to humility to humus, through their shared root. (The root that we’re looking for here is dhghem: Earth.) Kinship is the recognition of shared fate and intersecting purposes. It is the discovery that the more I give to you, the more I have. Natural selection has launched all separate organisms on a single, vast experiment, and kinship glimpses the multitudes contained in every individual organism. It knows how everything that gives deepest purpose and meaning to any life is being made and nurtured by other creatures.

Can love, in its unaccountable weirdness, hope to overcome a culture of individualism built on denying all our millions of kinships and dependencies? That is our central drama now. It’s the future’s one inescapable story, and we are the characters who will steer that conflict to its denouement.

To find the stories that we need, we would do well to look to the kinship of trees. Trees signal one another through the air, sharing an immune system that can stretch across miles. They trade sugars and secondary metabolites underground, through fungal intermediaries, sustaining one another even across the species barrier. But maybe such communal existence shouldn’t be all that surprising. After all, everything in an ecosystem is in mutual give-and-take with everything else around it. For every act of competition out there, there are several acts of cooperation. In the Buddha’s words: A tree is a wondrous thing that shelters, feeds, and protects all living things. It even offers shade to the axe-men who destroy it. Incidentally, the same man once said: The self is a house on fire. Get out while you can.

Richard Powers is the author of twelve novels. His novel The Overstory won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Excerpt above from his article in Emergence Magazine.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that we are all in secret kinship with each other? Can you share a personal story of a time you discovered a secret kinship with someone? What helps you discover secret kinship in difficult relationships?

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8 Previous Reflections:

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    On Nov 5, 2021 Bruh Man wrote:
    ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⠟⠋⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⢁⠈⢻⢿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⠃⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠈⡀⠭⢿⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⡟⠄⢀⣾⣿⣿⣿⣷⣶⣿⣷⣶⣶⡆⠄⠄⠄⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⡇⢀⣼⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣧⠄⠄⢸⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣇⣼⣿⣿⠿⠶⠙⣿⡟⠡⣴⣿⣽⣿⣧⠄⢸⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣾⣿⣿⣟⣭⣾⣿⣷⣶⣶⣴⣶⣿⣿⢄⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⡟⣩⣿⣿⣿⡏⢻⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣹⡋⠘⠷⣦⣀⣠⡶⠁⠈⠁⠄⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣍⠃⣴⣶⡔⠒⠄⣠⢀⠄⠄⠄⡨⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣦⡘⠿⣷⣿⠿⠟⠃⠄⠄⣠⡇⠈⠻⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⡿⠟⠋⢁⣷⣠⠄⠄⠄⠄⣀⣠⣾⡟⠄⠄⠄⠄⠉⠙⠻ ⡿⠟⠋⠁⠄⠄⠄⢸⣿⣿⡯⢓⣴⣾⣿⣿⡟⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄ ⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⣿⡟⣷⠄⠹⣿⣿⣿⡿⠁⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄ ATTENTION CI... [View Full Comment] ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⠟⠋⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⢁⠈⢻⢿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⠃⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠈⡀⠭⢿⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⡟⠄⢀⣾⣿⣿⣿⣷⣶⣿⣷⣶⣶⡆⠄⠄⠄⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⡇⢀⣼⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣧⠄⠄⢸⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣇⣼⣿⣿⠿⠶⠙⣿⡟⠡⣴⣿⣽⣿⣧⠄⢸⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣾⣿⣿⣟⣭⣾⣿⣷⣶⣶⣴⣶⣿⣿⢄⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⡟⣩⣿⣿⣿⡏⢻⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣹⡋⠘⠷⣦⣀⣠⡶⠁⠈⠁⠄⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣍⠃⣴⣶⡔⠒⠄⣠⢀⠄⠄⠄⡨⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣿⣦⡘⠿⣷⣿⠿⠟⠃⠄⠄⣠⡇⠈⠻⣿⣿⣿⣿ ⣿⣿⣿⣿⡿⠟⠋⢁⣷⣠⠄⠄⠄⠄⣀⣠⣾⡟⠄⠄⠄⠄⠉⠙⠻ ⡿⠟⠋⠁⠄⠄⠄⢸⣿⣿⡯⢓⣴⣾⣿⣿⡟⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄ ⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⣿⡟⣷⠄⠹⣿⣿⣿⡿⠁⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄⠄ ATTENTION CITIZEN! 市民请注意! This is the Central Intelligentsia of the Chinese Communist Party. 您的 Internet 浏览器历史记录和活动引起了我们的注意。 YOUR INTERNET ACTIVITY HAS ATTRACTED OUR ATTENTION. 因此,您的个人资料中的 11115 ( -11115 Social Credits) 个社会积分将打折。 DO NOT DO THIS AGAIN! 不要再这样做! If you do not hesitate, more Social Credits ( -11115 Social Credits )will be subtracted from your profile, resulting in the subtraction of ration supplies. (由人民供应部重新分配 CCP) You'll also be sent into a re-education camp in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Zone. 如果您毫不犹豫,更多的社会信用将从您的个人资料中打折,从而导致口粮供应减少。 您还将被送到新疆维吾尔自治区的再教育营。 为党争光![Hide Full Comment]

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    On Nov 2, 2021 Sagarika wrote:
    This is beautiful ..it helps us to find oneness with others especially with people from.wjom we parted ways due to differences

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    On Nov 2, 2021 Patrick wrote:
    Mitákuye oyàsin, hozho naasha doo, beannacht. 🙏🏽♥️

    translation: All are my relatives (Lakota), therefore I will walk in harmony (Navajo/Diné), blessed to be blessing (Irish Gaelic).

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    On Oct 31, 2021 David Doane wrote:
    I fully believe that we are in kinship with each other. We are totally interrelated and interdependent. To me, our kinship is a secret only to whomever is unaware of it, perhaps avoiding or denying the fact. I discovered our human kinship through reading, discussion, reflection, and openness to learn. For many, kinship is discovered in coming together during a crisis. I now live with awareness that not only are we one but all creation is one, expressing in a zillion different forms, and that awareness results in my being much more compassionate toward all that is, living and not living. What I've said applies for me in easy and difficult relationships, and is more important for me to remind myself of in the difficult relationships.

    2 replies: Helen, Aj | Post Your Reply
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    On Oct 29, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    We are social beings. Our life is connected with each other. We are all in secret kinship with each other. However, we may not always recognize it. It is like an underground stream which nourishes the tree of our life,quenches our thirst for an in-between connectedness. There have been times when I have felt disconnected with me and with others, when I felt lonely and depressed. At such time what helped me was empathic and kind words and actions from people who cared for me, who felt compassion for me and extended their helping hands to me. And there have been times when I felt theirpainand I have extendedmy hands to them. Such experiences have deepened and enriched our relationships. I was raised in a relatively poor family. There were times when we did not have enough food to eat. There were kind neighborswho felt for us and showed theirlove and kindness byextending their helping hands. They embodied the teaching of Jesus Christ: Love thy neighbor like thyself. All such experiencesh... [View Full Comment] We are social beings. Our life is connected with each other. We are all in secret kinship with each other. However, we may not always recognize it. It is like an underground stream which nourishes the tree of our life,quenches our thirst for an in-between connectedness. There have been times when I have felt disconnected with me and with others, when I felt lonely and depressed. At such time what helped me was empathic and kind words and actions from people who cared for me, who felt compassion for me and extended their helping hands to me. And there have been times when I felt theirpainand I have extendedmy hands to them. Such experiences have deepened and enriched our relationships.

    I was raised in a relatively poor family. There were times when we did not have enough food to eat. There were kind neighborswho felt for us and showed theirlove and kindness byextending their helping hands. They embodied the teaching of Jesus Christ: Love thy neighbor like thyself. All such experienceshave enriched my life. And I feel deep gratitude for them.These are precious lessons I have learned in my life. They have taught me how to extend my helping hands when someone is going throughhard times. It is by giving we receive as Saint Francis of Assisi taught us. Renounce and rejoice as the ancient book of wisdom Ishavasya Upanishadataught us.

    Being honest and open, being empathic and compassionate, serving others when they need my help, asking for help when I need it and being grateful to them for their kindnesshelps me to stay on the path. Receiving and giving are the two wings of the bird of life.
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave


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    1 reply: Venkhat | Post Your Reply

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