By
Yee Liu Williams
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12 April, 2016

What if human relationships were put at the centre  of the world’s affairs, rather than measuring happiness by financial measures of profit and loss? This was the key message at a talk on Relational Thinking held at IofC's London centre on 6 April. Dr Michael Schluter and Marjon Busstra of the Relational Thinking Network were the keynote speakers at the event organized by IofC UK’s business programme.

Michael Schluter speaking, with Marjon Busstra and Jacqui Daukes seated

Picking up on the title of the latest Star Wars film, they stressed that human relationships were the ‘third force’ awakening in the world, superseding profit and material considerations alone. Chairing the evening event, Dr Jacqui Daukes observed that 'through interactions with each other we find connections amongst ourselves that are often unexpected.'

Marjon Busstra, Director of the Relational Thinking Secretariat, based in Cambridge, drew on the recent scientific advance that gravitational waves, first suggested by Einstein, can now be measured. The detection of 'gravitational waves' was a key moment in scientific history: gravitational waves provide a new dimension for measuring movement in the Universe. The ability to detect them has the potential to revolutionize astronomy in the opinion of Professor Stephen Hawking.

Relational Thinking can be described as a ‘third force’ in a social universe. 'We live in a "relational era" of social media but it's mostly about connections and not about relationships,' Busstra said. Connections are not relationships; they don’t necessarily bring us close enough to each other to trust one another or to cooperate optimally in a given situation or crisis. This requires a revolution in our thinking—a paradigm shift.

Seeing the world through a 'relational lens'

Michael Schluter, Chair of the Relational Thinking Network, became nationally known in the UK for the Keep Sunday Special campaign, which successfully limited Sunday shopping hours in the interests of shop workers’ families and faith communities. He presented the concept of the 'relational lens' that opens up to a new way of redefining and reforming what society, governments and organizations could do. In order to survive today's challenges we need to interact with people and not be driven by the political and materialistic circumstances that dictate our lives, he said.

Relational Thinking campaigns for a new future that depends on how well society handles key relationships. This had the potential to provide a framework and 'moral compass' for individual action based on the relational values of the Judeo-Christian tradition.  

'We need something radical if we are going to shake up our current economic centre,' Schluter said. This meant viewing life from the perspective of relationships, as opposed to seeing it from the viewpoint of materialism or individualism.

But how can we measure relationships? For example, how do you decide if somebody is ‘poor’? Having money does not correlate with richness or happiness in any meaningful way, he observed. ’If you have strong relationships you can be relationally rich even if you are financially poor.' After basic human needs are met, people in low-income countries are often happier and have greater wellbeing than rich people in the Western world. Who, then, is the most ‘developed’? ‘Is development really about income?’ Schluter asked.

Instead of assuming that income or profit should generally be the ultimate goal for personal, corporate or government motivation, he argued that 'relational wellbeing' is what matters most in life. And Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was an inadequate measure of a nation’s wellbeing. ‘We force families to fit into GDP. We make relationships serve money,’ Schluter warned.

Audience at talk on Relational Thinking™ held at IofC's London centre on 6 April
Relational Thinking could radically retransform society based on social and 'relational capital' drawing on 'the strength of certain values': trust, dialogue and forgiveness, for example. But 'time is the currency of relationships' and 'it is dialogue that produces change'. This posed the question of how to get friends in the business community working together, Schluter said. ‘Probably below the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer there should be a Chief Stakeholder Relationship Officer—a CSRO. That makes a huge amount of sense,’ Schluter said, at a time when only 14 per cent of employees consider themselves to be engaged with their managers.

Schluter highlighted BP’s Deep Water Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf or Mexico where a breakdown in trust between key oil drilling employees and their managers had cost BP $20 billion.

If society understood where value truly lies, companies could measure brand or value through the quality of stakeholder relationships, recognising that there is more to sustainability than short-term profits. A relational business would no longer have the primary goal of maximising shareholder value, at whatever cost to the other stakeholders. A relational company would seek to maximise 'relational proximity' among all the stakeholders.

Relational Thinking as a new idea could change people’s responses to the challenges of today's world. Instead of placing material wealth at the centre of the metaphysical solar system we should place relationships at the centre , so better reflecting what we ultimately value.

For more information about Relational Thinking and how it can be applied to the different fields in our society, visit www.relationalthinking.net

Photos by Laura Noble

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