Today I woke up and ate a burrito. This simple act was an expression of my relationship in all four areas of life. It was relationship with myself because I was putting something into my body. Depending on what was in the burrito it might have been good for me or bad. It was relationship with others because someone milled the flour that made the wraps; butchered the animals that contributed their meat; planted, kept, and harvested the vegetables and so on. Depending on whether these things were done with fair labor, in environmentally sound ways etc., relationship in this area could likewise be good or bad.
This humble breakfast was also relationship with the transcendent — the larger aspect of reality — because the transcendent is ever-present in all things. Everything that led up to the burrito happened on the mundane or “small” level of reality but also on the sacred or “large” level. The act of eating itself was relationship with the transcendent and depending on my mindset, my thoughts as I consumed this meal, this relationship could have been good or bad.
Finally, the relationship with nature is obvious. My body and all its processes are natural as is the food I was eating. I was in nature as I ate, even down to looking out the window at the rainy morning. Again, depending on my thoughts and actions, this could have been good or bad relationship.
What’s the clear distinction between the two? Between good and bad, right and wrong relationship? Wholeness ethics gives us a template with which to answer this question. It’s called the “three aspects of right relationship.” They are:
Reverence is acknowledging the presence of the transcendent in people and things and inquiring into their larger purpose. So, to be in right relationship with anything on earth we must have reverence for it. And having reverence is a matter of acknowledging that there is more to the world than its surface. All things have a larger aspect and to be in right relationship we must acknowledge and inquire into this reality.
lnquiring into the larger meaning of anything is the beginning of caring about it. The full flowering of this caring is goodwill: wanting things and people to fulfill their larger purpose. To be in right relationship we must acknowledge and inquire into the larger purpose of things and desire to see that purpose fulfilled.
Lastly, we must do something about it. More specifically, we must do justice. Justice is giving people and things what they need to be whole, not what we think they deserve for failing to be whole.
ln this framework we see immediately that there can be no goodwill without reverence and there can be no justice without both reverence and goodwill. lf these three were a plant, reverence would be the root, goodwill the plant itself, and justice the fruit. This is important because we often try to deny or ignore it. We want to do justice or claim we have goodwill without bothering to acknowledge or inquire into the larger meaning and purpose of what we’re dealing with. The result is goodwill that isn’t good and justice that isn’t just.
So, these three, in their own proper relationship with each other, are absolutely necessary for right relationship in the world — with self, others, the transcendent or nature.