by Robin Hawley Gorsline
[Note: I began writing this well before the outbreak of Covid-19, but in some ways that crisis simply adds to the imperative that we attend to the needs of all humanity. And of course, the crisis highlights the social divisions already present—the lack of one or more of these necessities in various marginalized communities.]
For a year or more, I have included in my morning prayer a desire that everyone in the world has four things every day of their lives:
- shelter and safe communities
- and health care (both physical and mental).
And in sufficient quantities every day to more than survive, to actually thrive.
I call them the Four Necessities (following President Franklin Roosevelt’s proclamation of Four Freedoms for all people). Those freedoms he enunciated are still vital today (and all too lacking in too many places), as are these necessities, which are essential components for every human body on earth to not only survive but also thrive.
As with Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, each of us, all of us, have the inherent right to all four of the necessities. No one has the right to deny any of them to anyone.
Indeed, I believe we have a obligation to be proactive, to do all we can to make sure they are available for all bodies, wherever they may live, whatever age, nationality, ethnicity, gender or gender identity, sexuality, income, religion, political views, education, racial group—every single body without exception.
For me it is a call, and I believe it is a call laid on all of us. It has changed how I understand what is important, because I know that our world suffers when any one or any group of us cannot be our authentic selves. I agree with Robin Wall Kimmerer who writes, “all thriving is mutual,” meaning that if each of us, all of us, are not thriving then none of us is able to be all we can be. As Dr. King said, “no one is free until we are all free ….”, so too if any of us cannot thrive—due to lack of water, nutrition, safe and secure shelter, and lack of mental and physical health services—then none of us can live into our maximum potential. It can sound like a cliché but it is the truth: we are each and all part of an interdependent web of life.
Just think of the waste in human capital when individuals and whole populations are without necessary hydration to be able to breathe, healthy food to strengthen their bodies, safe and sanitary and protective living conditions, and health care for their bodies and minds.
Those of us who have these necessary conditions for life in sufficient quantity and quality can feel sorry for them, pray for them, and even donate to some group that tries to help, but in reality we are already paying—not only in funds our government may use to help (always far short of the need), but also in lost human potential and productivity in our world as well as the maintenance of law enforcement and military mechanisms to keep them from agitating against their conditions or even striking back in frustration and anger against the gruesome realities of their lives.
Should not our first obligation as members of the human race be to do everything we can to make sure that everyone else has enough to thrive? If every body thrives, we all thrive.
I have a special concern for Gaza, given the alarming deficiencies in their lives, but this is not limited to Gaza. Puerto Rico, part of the United States, is still struggling after Hurricane Maria and the more recent earthquake. And Somalia and so many parts of Africa, Central America, Asia, and of course the 50 states of our own nation. These four necessities are missing in lives everywhere. Should we not be exercising empathy for the entire human race, not just our own group?
So what to do?
There is no one or easy solution. What is needed is a fundamental attitudinal change, radically changing the definition of success and good living, currently built on getting what only we need and want, to seeing success as being when everyone has what we need and want. As Ibram X. Kendi has said, “we need policies that are need-based.”
I am safe in my privilege, but I do not feel successful when I know how many people are not, indeed how many are barely surviving and how many needlessly die, or whose lives become living hells, due to the lack of one or more of these necessities.
One more thought: as I continue to learn from indigenous people and scientists about the workings of the non-human parts of the world I am struck by how often they speak of creatures (I admit my special interest is in trees) galvanizing to help others in trouble, both those in their own “tribes” and others around them. So why can’t we do that, too?
And I continue to learn how seeing that natural world as “other,” as object to be used for our own well-being, rather than as neighbor and ally and teacher and fellow citizens of the planet can make a huge difference. That is a key to creating a different world. I have much to learn about this, but already I am growing more conscious of how my own socialization and practices make things more difficult for so many, not only other humans but nature as well (think Climate Crisis/Emergency).
In posts in the future, I will look at each of these necessities in turn, highlighting the essential nature of each and how many of us—yes, us—do not have access to them.
And I will return to how we might begin to shift our priorities. In the meantime, I invite you to read print and online articles (and share in your networks and share here) that highlight the enormous necessity gaps in our world. Don’t turn away from the troubling stories about starvation and thirst, substandard and even non-existent housing, and the lack of care for people who are sick and dying. Take them in, and think, what can I do? Feel the pain and loss that so many experience. How can I help create change, deep, systemic change so that all may thrive?
And let us not avoid opportunities where we can provide practical help, contributing to organizations that are already at work as well as insisting our leaders shift our priorities, leading us to a new world. We can lead, too.