Toward Holistic Human Relationships 1988

© Hazel Henderson, 1988
(word count 2,542)



Hazel Henderson

Ever since Earth’s living organisms progressed from cell division to the extraordinary innovation of sexual reproduction, humans have been trying to come to terms with its corollaries: physical asymmetry and death.  These two great issues have provided a continual challenge to all human cultures; to philosophers, scientists and almost every member of our species. We also have assumed that our particular form of self-awareness made these two issues of sexuality and death exclusively human problems.

Evidence from history and anthropology attests to the almost infinite variety of our cultural, social, political and psychological responses to the challenges of sexual asymmetry. Different cultures have opted through the ages for almost every conceivable form of distribution of power and influence between men and women — from outright female dominance (as still practiced in some tribal societies) and the matrifocal cultures of Neo-lithic times to the generally patriarchal societies so prevalent; in the world today. Sexual asymmetry invites a much wider repertoire of responses than its twin challenge: death, since, so far, there has been little we humans could do beyond extending our lifespan, in the face of our mortality.

With the arrival in 1987 of the five bil1ionth member of the human family, together with the post-war innovation of reliable technological means of birth control, our range of responses to our sexuality has expanded with bewildering rapidity: from medical ethics and religion to social morays, political and economic measures as well as art, philosophy and myth. All this social and technical change around two such basic issues as sexuality and death have made the past several decades ones of upheaval, experimentation and, above all, confusion. Inevitably, this has produced excitement, and joy with the new freedoms, as well as much pain, misunderstanding, loneliness and fear. Deep religious beliefs are challenged; families are divided; economic institutions are restructured and laws changed. The farthest reaches of sexual behavior, from avant-garde feminists’ “turkey-baster” insemination gatherings, homosexual bath-house cavortings and all forms of pornography and commercial exploitation have been explored. Sexuality has been explicated with such precision and clinical detail as to become banal and boring.

The new technical means or reproduction, from in vitro and in vivo fertilization to surrogate motherhood have changed the definition of parenthood, while the immortalists with cryogenic dreams of future lives, have joined the medical professionals in redefining death. For all these seasons, the ultimate issues are on top of the human agenda and we are forced to reconsider our most basic feelings: love and fear and the meaning of life itself. Not surpris1ngly, at this zenith of the industrial age, these deep existential questions reemerge in books, workshops, poetry, art and music and even in Madison Avenue consumer surveys.1. Will we take refuge from our fears by tightening our traditional bonds of family and romantic love? Or will we leap into the unknown — redefining love and relationship in this multi-cultural Age or Interdependence, as planetary citizenship and learn to celebrate our common bonds as members of the whole human family?

I believe that many of us will have no choice but to continue to explore the new .frontiers of relationship, rethink the biological imperatives of parenthood, territoriality and arrive at a new definition of family and humanity itself. National boundaries and identities are blending in the new global melting pot. Seven great globalization processes are steadily increasing our interdependence: 1.) the globalization of technology and production; 2.) of employment work, and migration; 3.) of militarization and the arms race; 4.) of pollution and environmental degradation; 5.) of finance, trade and debt; 6.) of consumption and culture. The seventh great globalization process is that or the re-alignment of nations and their domestic restructurings in responses to the above-mentioned six globalizations. Thus, these globalization processes are highly-interactive, dynamic, non-linear, irreversible and therefore accelerating. As I have outlined elsewhere,2. there are now three identifiable zones of this multidimensional planetary change: 1.) The Breakdown Zone, where national and institutional restructurings are occurring amid pollution, decay, cultural confusion and the breakdown of traditional knowledge paradigms; 2.) The Bifurcation Zone, where individuals, families and communities are trying to reposition themselves, reframe their values and career choices; and 3.) The Breakthrough Zone, where successful adjustments are occurring, old ideologies are giving way to new maps of the new social terrain, new criteria for success, new goals and new paradigms.

A key shift will entail a new view of love. Romantic love between men and women entered Western culture in 14th century Europe, and perhaps earlier in other cultures. Obviously, this well-worn form of dyadic, male-female relationship has served humanity well–providing for stable forms of child-rearing beyond the primeval tribe. However, today in many industrial and post-industrial societies this dyadic form is failing. Divorce is increasing and giving rise to ever-more single parent families (most often headed by women), as well as homosexual and lesbian couples and the growth of intentional living groups of unrelated individuals. The traditional Western ideal of finding “Mr. or Ms. Right” and settling down to lifelong monogamy has been fading since the sixties. As Margaret Mead noted when asked her view of marriage by a TV talk show host, “Marriage is wonderful. I have enjoyed all my marriages.” Mead’s view was of serial marriages: a “college marriage”; a .child-rearing marriage; a “fling” marriage; and finally a mature marriage for the declining years.

Traditional monogamous marriages do provide emotional security at the price of narrowed relational horizons, boredom and lack of educational stimulation. While many are said to be made in heaven, these traditional marriages also involve mutual-security and need-satisfaction and refuge from loneliness and risk-taking in the social arena. Often, if one partner experiences a spurt of growth, the relationship is threatened and can rupture, as many thousands of case studies have shown. Other stresses on dyads have come from the women’s movements in many countries, where traditional marriages have often proved to be breeding grounds of violence, incest and child-neglect—far from their former benign image.

Thus, in today’s massive globalization processes and social upheavals, it behooves us to examine new and extended expressions of love~ caring end relationship, as well as nurturance or both children and the increasing numbers of elderly adults. The biggest issue is that of redefining what we mean by “love”. Will it remain an almost exclusively dyadic term with its ubiquitous sexual and parental overtones? Or can its definition be broadened beyond the immediate family of whatever kind, so as to expand our abilities to care for each other in the new, global interdependent, mu1ti-cultura1 sense of the human family, as a whole?3. The exclusivity associated with love implies that it is a scarce commodity, and if bestowed too widely, it will be “watered down” and lead to shallowness of relationship, lack of commitment or promiscuity.

I believe that it is time to re-examine such assumptions. Firstly, it is not so much love that is scarce. In fact, many people in modern societies are suffering from frustration of their loving expressions, due to lack of social arrangements, alienation technologically-mediated isolation via TV, computer terminals, job settings, fast foods, high-rise, anonymous architecture, and in the West, the cults of individualism and competition. Certainly our time is limited by death, but we need not hoard our love or give it only to one other of the opposite sex and our .immediate family. In fact, when we view love as a scarce commodity, we find ourselves in a state of anxiety, fear of abandonment and jealousy. These attitudes, in turn, are rooted in a lack of self-love, into which we are often acculturated by education, religion or parental attitudes. Lack of self-love then inhibits our ability to love others and gives rise to fears of insufficiency, cravings, isolation, anger and violence, which in turn are exploited by advertisers and merchandisers.

Suppose that we change our premise and adopt the view that love is abundant and natural and that we have the ability to call it forth in ourselves and others by changing our attitudes. Such a shift may be occurring in both men and women, as human development proceeds and as women learn to be more social1y and economically autonomous and men learn to be more emotionally robust and nurturing of themselves and each other. In this way we are gradually moving beyond the purely pro-creative stage of sexually-focused love between men and women, as well as the recreationally-focused sex of the sixties and seventies and the “open marriage” fads of the era of “free love” with its lack of commitment and immaturity. Today, as futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard4. states, “this kind of sex has become disappointing, burdened as it is by excessive arousal via. advertising and unwarranted expectations.” Hubbard claims that the new stage is “supra-sex”, where creatively-aroused individuals freely join in groups to co-create evolutionary path for the whole human family. She believes that Nature is inventing this next level of sexuality by the joining not of genes, but, genius in the spontaneous couplings and groupings around creative expression and entrepreneurship, and we need to notice what’s working in these new forms~ such as the popular “intrapreneurship” within bureaucratic companies. The exuberance released in these new relationships is already expanding our ability to love more widely and more deeply—beyond the fears and jealousies of the exc1usive male-female dyadic relationship.

I believe that we humans must escape the prison of gender with its often immature baggage of romantic love, sex, rivalry and fear and learn the deeper lessons of unconditiona1love—the on1y love worthy of the name. This conscious effort to expand and exercise our capacities for loving and altruistic, cooperative behavior is now crucial if we are to survive in this Age of Interdependence. Pitirim Sorokin, the great sociologist and author of Social and Cultural Dynamics,5. outlined these challenges of developing altruistic behavior in his last book, The Ways and Powers of Love.  Today individualism, greed and competition as the mainsprings of our social and economic life in much of the industrialized world are failing us and have run their course. A re-balancing toward our equal but unrewarded abilities to cooperate and build community is now vital for our social and individual health.  We can no longer hope to “own” each other, or hang on to “entitlements” to love that are not freely and reciprocally given and continually renewed in loving, co-creative community. As change sweeps on through our societies, we are also learning to make our traditional, child-bearing marriage contracts-more reciprocal and flexible, sharing more fairly between the sexes the vital task of parenting~ as well as community volunteering, as I have outlined elsewhere.6.

In fact, caring is already a burgeoning new industry, with day care, medical services, home helpers, and counseling services, which has grown up almost by default. Today, parenting, caring for the elderly and infirm can no longer be an underpaid and devalued task shunted onto women or “low-status” social groups. Millions of women who used to provide these services free in the home have already moved into the job market to obtain recognition and income. Thus, the monetarizing of formerly unpaid caring work will continue to be the fastest growing services sector, even though, as I have detailed (see Fig 1.) this adds no “productivity” to the economy, but rather recognizes formerly unaccounted productivity which subsidized the official money-denominated, GNP-measured sector. Care-givers in society are increasingly vital and must be recognized and financially-rewarded, while volunteer work in the community must be viewed as an obligation of citizenship for both, men and women, as well as children. I have explored elsewhere7. the full dimensions of the unpaid “love economy”: all the caring, sharing, parenting, volunteering, bartering, reciprocity and mutual aid that buttresses the official GNP-measured sectors of all societies. Even in industrial societies this cooperative, altruistic economy usually represents 50% or more or all” the productive work performed. For example in the U.S.A. alone some 89 million citizens volunteer at least five hours per week, in all age groups and socio-economic brackets, for an equivalent money value of approximately $110 billion in 1985, according to the Gallup Survey of Princeton. New Jersey.
Figure 1

All that is required is to recognize all of our existing cooperation and altruism, ignored by economists since it is invisible to their models. Sociologists measure unpaid productivity by accounting for all productive hours worked whether paid or unpaid, and while in industrial countries, unpaid work accounts for some 50% or more, in traditional societies, the percentage is much larger.8. As this vast subsidy of unpaid, caring work is made visible we can take heart in this new view or our equally altruistic abilities, and as Riane Eisler reminds us in The Chalice and the Blade, we have well-demonstrated abilities to build societies based on partnership between the sexes, rather than domination.9. When unpaid, caring work is made visible and accounted for in law and custom as wel1 then the expansion of our altruistic capabilities becomes possible and measurable. The caregivers in society will be accorded high status and serve as role models for all and rewarded by recognition, media attention and emulation.

Thus we may begin to see how love was made artificially scarce by our social and economic arrangements (as have so many other commodities). We can then begin to relax our fears and jealousies, as well as our cravings and over-consumption of resources and polluting habits and begin to lead healthier, emotionally self-reliant lives. In this social milieu a new sense of genuine abundance can nurture human development and move us toward ending the battle of the sexes, as well as revitalizing our lives. In fact, living more fully in widening circles of creative, loving relationship can extend our life spans and make death less fearful. We have, at last, reached the stage of evolution when all of our individual self-interests are identical and altruism has become pragmatic.


1.)         See for example, Advertising Age, “Welcome Home: Trend Experts point to the Neo-Traditional” Lenore Skenazy, May 16, 1988 p.38.

2.)         Futures Research Quarterly, “Riding the Tiger of Change: The Three Zones of Transition” Hazel Henderson, Vol 2 #1,Spring, 1986

3.)         See for example, Building a Global Civic Culture, Elise Boulding, Teachers College Press, Columbia University, N.Y. 1988

4.)         Personal interview June 1988. Hubbard is the author of The Hunger of Eve. The Evolutionary Journey and other works, and a founder and director of the World Future Society, Washington, D.C.

5.)         Pitirim Sorokin, Social and Cultural Dynamics (1937) Porter Sargent one-volume edition, Boston, Mass.1957, 2nd printing 1970 The Ways and Powers of Love was first published in 1957 and is out of print.

6.)         Hazel Henderson, The Politics of the Solar Age, Chapter 13, “Coming Home,” Anchor Doubleday, New York, 1981

7.)         REVISION, “Post-Economic Policies for Post-Industrial Societies” H. Henderson, Winter-Spring, 1984-1985, Helfreth Publishers, Washington, D.C.

8.)         See for example, Oria Giarini, Dialogue on Wealth and Welfare, Pergamon Press, London, 1980

9.)         Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade, Harper & Row, N.Y. 1987. Lawyer and social scientists Eisler also pioneered. the development of flexible marriage contracts in her earlier book, Dissolution: No-Fault Divorce, Marriage and the Future of Women, McGraw Hill New York. 1977.

HAZEL HENDERSON, author of Building a Win-Win World and other books (, co-created with the Calvert group of socially-responsible mutual funds, the Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators (updated at She created the financial TV series, Ethical Marketplace, premiering on Public Broadcasting stations in the USA in January, 2005.