I have to admit, I have a love/hate relationship with two stories – The Giving Tree and The Titanic.
My relationship with The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein began early, probably around kindergarten. I remember loving the library. We would take weekly trips there where I’d find a corner in the children’s section and curl up with a stack of books, most of them which I couldn’t read but loved to look at.
I’d ask my mom to sit with me and my baby brother and read us certain ones. My first request, according to my mother, was always The Giving Tree.
I finally received my own copy of the book as a birthday gift one year and read it so much the pages and cover began to tatter.
The book would always leave me with a feeling of both love and sadness. I was deeply touched by the relationship between the tree and the boy, but felt, even early on, how one-sided it was. The story is one of unconditional love, but it hurt my heart that the boy took, while the tree always gave.
No surprise that I ended up playing this out in many of my own relationships throughout life. This lesson has been a real one for me, and so many like me. We give without boundaries, and we find ourselves without that which we need to feel whole, healthy and fully supported. It’s a story as old as time.
It didn’t really surprise me when I was pregnant, and at my baby shower, I received a copy of The Giving Tree. It, too, quickly became my daughter’s favorite. I remember it was actually the first book she requested when she was old enough to ask. I would read it to her, and we would both have tears in our eyes. She felt, as I always had, the tug of the familiar desire to give from a place of real love, but the sadness of seeing and experiencing not receiving the same love in return.
Although I do subscribe to the idea of giving unconditionally, I believe we can now see, in our world, the old ancestral wounds that have continued to be perpetuated by one-sided relationships where one gives and the other takes.
All we have to do is look at humans’ relationship with Mother Earth. She gives, unconditionally, and we, collectively, take.
It’s not to say there aren’t stewards of the earth who have learned to share a balanced and reciprocal relationship with her. In general, however, we have seen more giving coming from one direction, which is why we have so much imbalance in our environment.
I do believe there are signs of an emerging understanding in the collective that we cannot continue to take and have healthy, sustainable experiences … with the planet or with one another. With this, small shifts are beginning to be seen in everything from how company cultures are run to how we engage with one another online and in our core relationships.
What I’m witnessing is that the givers are done giving without receiving and the takers are recognizing that there is no fulfillment without true reciprocity.
As humans, we are designed to give the best of ourselves. When we do not, we take a hit. We experience the sadness and hollowness, on some level, of having all the “stuff” without the substance. Of having what we need to survive, but not thrive.
For so long, humans have focused on merely surviving, that, in so many ways, we don’t even know what it is to thrive.
In our taking, we are operating from deeply ingrained wounds of lack and a need to control our environment and those in it, lest we end up not having enough to survive.
James Cameron’s portrayal of The Titanic has touched me in a similar way as The Giving Tree. They say you can see what drives people when they are faced with a life-or-death situation.
When we watch how those on the Titanic acted as the ship began to sink, we see a few heroes, but mostly those solely looking out for themselves.
The fact is, when we do this, we may survive, but as a collective, we do not thrive.
Thriving is a collaborative effort. It takes a different level of focus, courage, trust and faith.
Did Rose in the story of The Titanic survive?
Yes, she did. But the question is, did she thrive?
Tragedies happen. When one wins and the other loses, there is survival, but looking at the whole picture, can we say those who win thrive? Jack lost his life. Rose had to live out her years without her one, true love.
In the Giving Tree, did the tree survive?
Well, that’s debatable. She was left as a stump after the boy took everything she had.
What she was left with, in the end, was a place of rest to offer the boy. So, she might have survived, but clearly, was not thriving. But did the boy thrive, either?
What if, in both of these stories, we saw a way for the characters to work together so they both got what they needed?
All systems are a sum of their parts. When a part doesn’t function optimally, it affects the entire system.
Today’s systems are changing. Corporations cannot survive if there isn’t a culture where people can thrive. And people are finally demanding places where they can.
Our bodies cannot survive unless we learn to actually thrive through our choices in how to treat ourselves. We have hit a toxic load that is not allowing us to continue to abuse them. If we do, we literally will not survive. There is no more wiggle room.
We are at a tipping point. It’s no longer simply about survival. In order to make it in our current world, we must all begin to turn our sights to what allows all of us to thrive, not just some of us to survive.
I’m going to put on my science geek hat for a moment (I was actually a biology major for a while in undergrad).
The natural order of systems, when it comes to thriving, encompasses the inherent patterns and principles that govern the well-being and flourishing of various systems in nature. These systems can range from ecosystems and societies to economies and individual organisms. By understanding and aligning with the natural order, we can promote sustainability, balance, and optimal functioning within these systems.
In nature, thriving systems exhibit certain characteristics and follow specific principles. Interconnectedness is a fundamental aspect, where systems are composed of numerous elements that rely on each other for stability and vitality.
For example, within an ecosystem, plants, animals and microorganisms are interconnected through complex relationships that contribute to the overall health of the system. Similarly, in a society, various institutions, communities and individuals are interconnected, and their well-being is interlinked.
Diversity and resilience are key factors for thriving systems. Diversity ensures that there is a variety of elements or components within a system, which enhances its resilience and adaptability. This diversity allows for multiple roles to be fulfilled, increasing overall stability and flexibility. In an ecosystem, a diverse range of species is better equipped to recover from disturbances compared to a monoculture.
There is a reason we are clamoring for more diversity, equity and inclusion in our experiences. This is a societal pattern that shows our desire for more of what will allow us to create resilience and thrive.
Balance and feedback loops are vital for maintaining equilibrium within thriving systems. Feedback loops involve the exchange of information between different components of a system, leading to self-regulation and the preservation of balance.
Positive feedback loops amplify change, while negative feedback loops work to stabilize and maintain the system. Balancing feedback loops are crucial for preventing unchecked growth or decline and for promoting sustainable dynamics. Here again, we need reciprocity within systems in order to thrive – the yin and yang in healthy balance.
Harmonious relationships are fundamental to the natural order of thriving systems. These relationships are cooperative and mutually beneficial, fostering overall well-being and sustainability. In ecosystems, symbiotic relationships, such as pollination between plants and insects, exemplify this harmony. Similarly, in societies, cooperation and collaboration among individuals and communities contribute to collective progress and prosperity.
Recognizing and respecting the natural order of systems is crucial for creating sustainable and thriving environments. By understanding the interconnectedness, diversity, balance, energy flow and harmonious relationships within systems, we can make informed decisions and take actions that support their long-term well-being and resilience … our ability to thrive.
While the concept of thriving focuses on the well-being and flourishing of systems, the concept of survival is more centered around the basic preservation and continuation of life.
But what if we are at a point where we cannot survive unless we actually learn to thrive?
Survival is a fundamental instinct present in all living organisms. However, thriving goes beyond mere survival. Thriving implies a state of optimal growth, development, and prosperity. It encompasses not only the fulfillment of basic needs, but also the ability to flourish and reach higher levels of well-being and functionality.
While survival is often associated with individual or immediate concerns, thriving encompasses a broader perspective. It considers the well-being and flourishing of systems as a whole, whether they are ecological, societal or economic. Thriving involves creating conditions that support not just survival but also the growth, resilience and abundance of the system.
Survival provides a foundation upon which thriving can be built. However, once survival needs are met, systems have the potential to move beyond mere survival and strive for higher levels of capacity and experience.
I would argue we are in a critical time where, if we choose, history can repeat itself. We can reach a pinnacle where we have enough to survive, but instead of focusing on how we can continue, together, up the ladder and break the ceiling into a focus on how to thrive as a collective force, we choose to self-sabotage and burn it all down so that we have to begin, again.
What I can say is history does not need to repeat. With awareness, we have the choice to move beyond where we have been before. But it will take a different degree of, as I mentioned before, focus, courage, faith and trust. We must be ready to test our human capacity. To truly believe that we can break the barriers of what is known so that we can venture into the unknown … and just, perhaps, find a way where we can all thrive.