Monday, May 16, 2011

Re-examining Stewardship

A little while ago, as I was in the process of writing the essay on stewardship for the Urban Land Scouts blog, I was talking my ideas over with Matt, and he said, "When you talk about 'stewardship,' you're still talking about a hierarchical relationship of people to everything else--nature, resources, animals. I realize that it's not within the scope of your essay, but you should think about what 'stewardship' really means." I've been thinking about it ever since then, and thought that I'd share some of my thoughts with you.

To me, stewardship has religious connotations--in the sense that stewardship is the equivalent of dominion over plants and animals, as dictated by a higher power. Of course in that sense, stewardship still implies responsibility and a more heightened sense of awareness. However, it still definitely describes a system where people are overlords of everything else--nature, animals, resources--just using everything, but more responsibly, perhaps. If a steward is "a person whose responsibility it is to take care of something," there is the implied power given to people; it does not necessarily mean that people should be consistent, or doing everything within their power to make the environment better, through sustainable and responsible practices. (You see how difficult it is to shift from our normal way of thinking? I'm having trouble even wording this...)

What I mean is that even when adopting the notions of stewardship, we believe ourselves to have the most control, to have the best solutions for the troubles that we create in the first place. The solution of retaining power, but using it a little more responsibly only sounds better; but how much does it really accomplish? If stewardship just reaffirms the rather unnatural position of human superiority, how do we re-order our thinking to make ourselves a part of nature, rather than an entity superior to everything else? How do we get to a point where it's not even a matter of instituting stewardship, but a matter of maintaining a close correspondence with nature, recognizing ourselves as a part of it?

When I visited Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center last month, Bill, the grounds manager, talked about a different way of living in the world. Everyone at Narrow Ridge lives off the grid, uses composting toilets, small wind turbines, and solar panels, collects rain water for bathing and uses spring water for drinking. They also live in sustainably-built houses--most are straw-bale houses, others are built from the trees growing right there on the land. Bill explained that they view technological advances as part of the natural processes, and utilize them to benefit both them and their environment. I keep thinking of ways that I could occupy a more fitting role; I know that veganism is a part of it--I'll keep you posted on other things as I discover them.


heckle said...

Thanks for bringing this up, Kat. Although I've been keenly aware of the ludicrous concept of "wildlife management," of nature needing us to manage it, I hadn't yet made the leap to think about in terms of the underlying concept of Urban Land Scouts. I will definitely ponder this.

zemmely said...

I think that the kind of stewardship promoted by the Urban Land Scouts can be beneficial--it's more than many people think about on a daily basis. But there's more. People who speak from a position of privilege don't often recognize their privilege, and it's hard to point that out.
Thank you for your comment, Ash--I've just thought of something else, and maybe I'll write a short post on it tonight.

M Raese said...

I, too, think that stewardship is a good place to start and it is not a bad thing, in itself. But if we want to be serious about "sustainability" then stewardship is not the answer. It makes more sense to me to spend time thinking about interaction with our environment in an ecological sense than to concern ourselves with marshalling everything around us.
Nature takes care of itself just fine and it is only when we decide that we need to utilize it for our own ends that it needs to be "managed."

Nicole said...

Have you guys read this article about Amish people and technology?

zemmely said...

I really like that article--thanks for posting a link! I turned to Matt, and said, "Let be Amish!" The ways in which they make decisions make sense to me.