12/21 – Nurturing our Humanity

Suzy Adra

Suzy Adra

Suzy Adra

Utopia. It is a buzzword these days. What I learned about Utopia during my early days in college was that it is an ideal society where everything is perfect. Eisler and Frye’s Nurturing our Humanity speaks of this Utopia in a more approachable way:  they call it Humane society. This book is full of footnotes and draws from a number of disciplines such as neurobiology, archeology, and history. It is a highly researched book with a lot of information, surveys, studies, and experiments, and will surely become a classic reference for anyone studying society and culture. Nurturing our Humanity, aside from being well done research, is a call to action encouraging change towards a more partnership-based society.

Eisler and Fry begin Chapter 1 by introducing the content. While discussing partnership and domination, they bring in discussions on sex, love, intimacy, parenting, romance, human rights, social justice, and politics, all within the context of pointing the direction to the move towards a nurturing partnership society, rather than the domination systems of past and present. In this chapter they write that caring, creativity, and consciousness are part of our human makeup. Domination societies tend to be more stressed out, while those that lean towards partnership experience more healthy and happy lives. Examples of such countries are Southeast Asia and European Nordic nations. The authors say that people are afraid of change, and that is this fear which makes them support awful government agendas. They draw on evidence from prehistory and history to show how misogyny was fed to us.

Eisler and Fry approach the issue through a systemic and macroscopic view, considering how different parts of a system interact. They look at the larger picture to see how patterns repeat in different cultures, and mostly how females and males interact. In their opinion, for us to influence change, we must change the narratives we tell about human nature. So far, the story we have been telling is that humanity is bad, sinful, evil, and dirty, but there is an alternative.

Chapter 2 discusses how we are made to believe the narrative that humans are destructive and selfish, made to go to war, and that men are wired for rape by nature because they have selfish genes. This narrative is told by sociologists and evolutionary psychologists. The truth is evolution shows us that we are indeed created to nurture. Humanity is stripped of its powers in this scenario. What determines humanity is culture, and culture is not set in our biology. Culture is learned through education and can be changed. The authors take an anti-deterministic stance. How do we explain people who help people? The answer is simple, humans are also hardwired for empathy, caring, and other nurturing capacities. The archaeological record shows that warfare is a recent human trait. Sites in ancient Turkey and Crete show that humans did not assign roles based on gender. Studies have shown that stress can inhibit our nurturing and caring abilities. Our brains are influenced by what we learn and so there is a relationship between biology, culture, and human agency.

The evolution of Love as integral to the development of the human brain is discussed in length in Chapter 3. Mammals care for their offspring and this evolution is a huge key in the evolution of care and nurture. Nurture effects the brain of a child, when a child is not loved they will suffer the consequence in adult life. Some cultures disguise violence as love, thus allowing harmful behavior rather than true love. I personally think that love did not evolve, that it is an innate capacity within each human being.  

In Chapter 4, Eisler and Fry point out that human brains are molded by our environment and experience, considering epigenetics and how it influences the baby before it is conceived, thus reviving Lamarck’s theory about the transmission of acquired traits from generation to generation. Human brains can also change when social circumstances change. Which means if we establish peaceful existence we can sustain it. Stressful childrearing is a trait of dominant cultures which disrupts our hormonal levels. We carry the genes, but it also depends on what happens in our life to actually trigger a certain gene. We are shaped by social and economic factors. The flexibility of our brain allows us to change not only our behavior but also our culture. This happens when we begin to change our beliefs.

In Chapter 5, the authors take a systems theory stance to help understand the relationship between culture, family, and child rearing dynamics. It boils down to how we grew up and what we were taught as children, as to what kind of lifestyle we live as adults, and whether it is domination or partnership. Any society can have both, but it depends on what is culturally accepted and reinforced, as to what kind of orientation it will follow, be it partnership or domination. 

Chapter 6 discusses the wide spectrum of which each society may be influenced by partnership and domination. It depends on the level of influence that will in turn effect if people are trusting or fearful, peaceful or violent. In this chapter they look at a variety of societies, indigenous, religious, and industrial, through this lens.

Chapter 7 discusses the original partnership societies and where they come from. Not all transition societies were domination based. Complex foragers, as they call them, were the first domination systems in the pre-historical record. There are various theories of how domination originated, one of them indicates the origin as Europe. The authors concur that it was at different times in different places based on the archeological record. Mostly the movement from nomadic lifestyle to that of a settler and agricultural society is what brought this on. The archeological record indicates homicide existing for longer than warfare. Warfare began 10,000 years ago, after the preagricultural and agricultural revolution. Nomadic forager societies were partnership societies. They go on to discuss the features of a partnership society:  gender equality, respect, non-violence, ethics that support human caring, and cooperation. The chapter ends saying that we do not need to return to this kind of lifestyle to end domination, and that the content of this book is not a utopian vision but rather a reality that is wired in our DNA.

Chapter 8 is a discussion of  human consciousness  and how it is directly a reflection of our culture. Our beliefs of what is real and unreal, right and wrong, true and false is programmed by our society. Therefore, if our consciousness expands, it is a result of what we are taught. Most of us conform to society and obey authority. It becomes a program that is embedded in the brain and results in rigidity. Children who grow up in such environments have no choice but to obey their dominating parents, and therefore end up with repressed anger and hatred. Another thing that develops under such stressful circumstances is violence, depression, and lack of empathy.  Despite that, some break free from these supposedly normal ways, but we still have a background record playing saying that domination is normal. Children are bombarded with such messages.

In Chapter 9, Eisler and Fry talk about touch as key to communicating. Patterns of touch differ in partnership and domination. Certain cultural practices such as foot binding served to show that touch must hurt. Violence against girls is common, childrearing includes spanking, slapping, etc.., the norm in most cultures, and cruelty in the name of God by not responding to crying babies. The same goes for sexual intimacy, where in domination societies the male has control over the female body, and the woman’s body is vilified. Also, sex itself is vilified in most religions. The authors say that social repression results from sexual repression and could also in effect cause political repression. Unless there is a change in parent child relationships, we will still have the same psychosocial patterns of domination. This chapter also addresses the distortion of sexuality where females are expected to suppress it while males are not, and even male sexuality is distorted towards domination in certain cultures. Another way it is used in domination systems is to not allow free reproductive rights to women. All this to say that violence has been made to seem pleasurable while empathy is eradicated. This chapter goes on to discuss in detail the impact of media on such a disaster.

Chapter 10 is an in depth look at love. Domination culture believes that only females must express love, and that males expressing it show signs of weakness. Love is about transcending the self. In domination systems love is dangerous and mistrustful. Men cannot express love as they would be thought of as weak in certain cultures. There are a set of alienating practices that discourage intimacy among family members thus creating fear. In cultures leaning more towards partnership, love is obligation, responsibility, empathy, self-expression, and personal realization. Another trait of dominant culture is violence against children and wives. Violence was also acceptable in a school setting. There are 90 countries where it is common that violence is still allowed in schools, while in Nordic countries spanking and such violence are illegal at home and at school. The authors cite experiments proving that hormones such as testosterone are not to blame for violence, but rather it is what is happening in the environment when the levels of this hormone rise, that is the culprit. The only way out of this dilemma is to leave the gender roles we were taught. Therefore, socialization is a good way to influence such programs as has been done by the Nordic nations.

In Chapter 11, the authors say that the actual cultural conflict we need to look at is not really a religious one, it is more the conflict between partnership and domination. In any country, society, or community, there are always those who want to keep the grip and dominate, and those who want to work together and live a more humane life. We have to do away with myths that keep domination systems and begin to cultivate alternative myths that instill partnership. These myths must address answers to questions of what it means to be man or woman, and what it means to be human. One such myth is the creation of Adam and Eve and that woman is inferior to man. There is a real and observable move towards partnership in all sectors of life, however, we cannot yet predict the outcome. Despite studies and movements that push towards more partnership-based society, humanity is meeting this with resistance as there is a real fear of change.

In the concluding Chapter 12, Eisler and Fry deduce that humans have the capacity for empathy, love, and partnership. It all depends on how our children are raised and what they see and learn when it comes to male and female interactions. With all that is going on from climate change to socio political issues around the world, the only way to insure our survival is by educating our children and building foundations based on peace and equality. In the authors words: “The challenge is to nurture partnership where it exists today, to coax it into existence where it does not, and to protect its sustainability against the re-emergence or spread of domination.” The way to do this is to change parent – child relationships. For any change to really occur we must understand the difference between the characteristics of partnership and domination culture so that we can implement change in what the authors call the four cornerstones: childhood, gender, economics, and language and narrative. At the end of this chapter the authors add a list of recommendations of how to implement changes within each of these cornerstones.

About the Author

Suzy Adra, Ph.D, RYT, CCL is an artist, certified yoga instructor, certified energy healing practitioner, and certified trauma release practitioner. She currently writes for and facilitates yoga, trauma release, breathwork and creativity workshops.  Suzy holds a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Integral Studies. Her dissertation is entitled: The States of Presence and Insight in the Painting Process. She is the creator of ArtKeyTypes and Bīja Healing Sanctuary in Italy.

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About the Author

Suzy Adra, Ph.D, RYT, CCL an artist, certified yoga instructor, certified energy healing practitioner, and certified trauma release practitioner. She currently writes for and facilitates yoga, trauma release, breathwork and creativity workshops.  Suzy holds a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Integral Studies. Her dissertation is entitled: The States of Presence and Insight in the Painting Process. She is the creator of ArtKeyTypes and Bīja Healing Sanctuary in Italy.

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