Magazine article Tikkun

Back Where We Belong

Magazine article Tikkun

Back Where We Belong

Article excerpt

* The Values of Belonging, by Carol Lee Flinders. HarperSanFrancisco, October, 2002.

I first met Carol Lee Flinders about four and a half years ago, with the release of her shimmering treatise At the Root of This Longing: Reconciling a Spiritual Hunger and a Feminist Thirst (HarperSanFrancisco). Its terrain shifted from the politics of mysticism to Polly Klaas and back again, marking her as a rare talent in her ability to seamlessly meld anecdote with analysis, spiritual truth with political insight in the creation of something important and new.

Musings about Gandhi and girls give way to a more overarching, ambitious view of humanity in her latest book, The Values of Belonging: Rediscovering Balance, Mutuality, Intuition and Wholeness in a Competitive World (HarperSanFrancisco, October, 2002). Here, Flinders goes back in time, arguing that before the advent of agriculture certain values prevailed in early hunter-gather societies (and their few surviving equivalent cultures)-and that the shift in values generated in the Fertile Crescent some six thousand years ago have had a profound hand in shaping the ills of Western Civilization ever since.

Before this review can proceed in earnest, I must say that though the book is compelling and important as midrash, I have some difficulty accepting her thesis as historical fact. Although she peppers the anthropological chapters of her book with anecdotes about this Pomo Indian tribe or that band of the Kalahari San, no book, I think, can successfully make a case for a definitive reading of the "values" embraced by all hunter-gatherers across time and place, let alone the prehistorical ancestors for whom we have no written record. The author herself acknowledges this: "No one lens will ever do justice to the complexity of human history... [but] I've nevertheless found this particular lens to have enormous explanatory power." Let us, then, harness its power, and proceed.

Flinders labels the interconnected values embraced by early huntergatherer societies as those of "Belonging." Just a few on her list include: self-restraint, conservatism, balance, expressiveness, generosity, mutuality, and inclusiveness. These principles were not, she asserts, inherent to human nature but rather the necessary tools for survival; people dependent on the Earth's bounty needed restraint and conservatism to keep the delicate ecosystem in balance, and generosity served as a safeguard, since everyone eventually met leaner times. …

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