T he ‘sister
We go about our daily life, engaged in activities that fall within the
circle that encompasses us. What’s going on outside of that circle?
In distant places villagers and city-dwellers lead a life very unlike
our own. But they are connected to us in ways that we cannot know: economically
and spiritually. We are splintered and dispersed throughout the world.
If only we could find each other again, a long-lost union could be redeemed.
Can we find our long-lost counterparts in faraway lands? Can we form ties
with them and their communities, reuniting broken bonds? The Sister City
movement is an attempt to do something like this. Founded [50 years] ago,
they sponsor cultural, educational and economic exchanges. The name is
beautiful, but does the movement live up to it?
How do sisters treat each other? Do they meet on special occasions only,
such as holidays, weddings, or funerals? Do they make small talk and repeat
old behavior patterns? Or do they care about what’s really going
on with their sibling—what’s ticking in their heart? Do they
want to know real feelings and aspirations? Do they want to know when
problems arise, and do they want to know when their sister is suffering
or in need?
Of course there’s all kinds of sisters. But there’s something
intrinsic about sisterhood that can’t be debased. True sisters are
equals. They are not parents, whose duty is to protect and nourish their
child. They are not children, looking for guidance and support. Sisterhood
is a radically equal lifelong commitment and partnership. There are no
time limits and no civil boundaries. Whatever choices or obstacles arise
in the course of a lifetime, whenever catastrophe strikes and everyone
else turns away, a person to turn to is always there.
The name ‘sister cities’ is redeemable. Let’s envision
the relationship expressed in the name—and then take steps which
express that vision.
How it could function
A Western city could adopt several very poor villages in a variety of
continents, plus a larger town or city. When a person becomes a member
they choose or are assigned a single person or family in each sister community.
The duty of those linked in this way is to get to know each other, and
to respond in some way to each other’s needs and hopes.
Another possibility is that there would be a forum where those in need
could announce themselves to the sister community. This would be an opportunity
for those in need to be recognized and discovered by those who need to
help. Displayed in a public area, the public could view these announcements;
or there could be a committee which reviewed the requests and asked or
assigned participants to respond.
What might adoption of a person in a sister community entail? First, one
would learn about the daily life of one’s partner: work and income,
food and medical care, culture and religion, education and personal interests.
Then, one would engage in reciprocal action: classes taken concurrently,
products bought or sold from each other, local sharing and publicizing
of what one has learned, travel to each other’s communities, joint
work projects in each other’s communities--and anything else that
responds to the real needs and aspirations of one’s partner. There
should also be room to address dire needs directly—but if so, there
must be a way to accomplish this without the unilateral action of the
rich giving their excess to the poor.
For any assistance given in one direction, there should be an attempt
made to give equal and opposite assistance in the other direction. For
instance, if a project provided for the basic food and medical needs in
a village, villagers could respond by teaching indigenous skills and crafts,
or by sharing stories, traditions, and local wisdom.
A fee, which covered administrative costs and project expenses, might
be required to become a member (for those who could afford it). Volunteer
translators from each community could live for a time in each other’s
communities. A physical focal point of the project might be developed
at each site, which could include two-way conferencing capacity and a
meeting place (and perhaps a small school).
If friendship and love can be deep and lasting, maybe relationships between
communities can also. Just as a human being can reach out to other human
beings, connecting in a way that breaks through barriers of ethnicity,
sex, and age, becoming a true friend, and expressing real love, the same
can be done by communities. A community can reach out to another community
far away. They may be separated by barriers of nationality, language,
culture, and history--the whole way of life may be different--but if they
share what is deep and essential, those differences may be overcome.
These communities--true friends, forming a kind of sovereign state--will
have relationships that are entirely different from what exists now. Not
because what we are doing now will be prohibited, but because it will
be unthinkable. It will be impossible to prosper because of the suffering
of others. It will never enter our minds to pay slave wages, dominate
economies, annihilate cultures. Our contacts will be fair, equal, non-exploitative.
We will work together and learn from each other, and this will make possible
a greater community which is stronger and better than we can now fully
imagine. This will happen not because of any rule or law or idea or principle,
but because of who we have actually become.