Root Systems - John C. Wunsch, P.C.
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Root Systems

Complexity exists just beneath the surface of simplicity. The trick is to let simplicity work to guide you through the path of complexity.

“He told me about oak trees; how when one of their number was under stress they would share nutrients via their root systems.” — Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places, Pg. 264 (Penguin 2008). Let’s pause a moment to contemplate this phrase. What are some human “root systems?” What are the ways we have of helping others who might be “under stress.” What are the ways we have of “sharing nutrients?” The best root systems would seem to be those which somehow share the following characteristics: they’re invisible, existing just beneath the surface; they arise spontaneously (that is, naturally); and they’re healing, restorative.

Three components, it appears, are required: Methods to detect. The healthy trees are capable of sensing when another of their kind is not well. They have methods to detect. Their root systems are capable of recognizing which others are in need of nutrition. Methods to send. The healthy trees are capable of transmitting nutrients. The have methods to send. They have the capability of sharing nutrients. Methods to receive. The at-stress oak trees are capable of receiving nutrients by way of the root systems of others. They have methods to receive. Their roots can absorb nutrients from the roots of others.

If anyone one of these three are missing, the oak trees as a group would not be as resilient, healthy, and strong. As with trees so too with people. Any human system intended to benefit others, to be effective, must at all times be detecting, sending, and receiving. Working to assist those under stress as well as protecting those who remain healthy, strong, and high-functioning.

A biologist might refer to this as “ecological facilitation.” “There are two basic categories of facilitative interactions: Mutualism is an interaction between species that is beneficial to both. A familiar example of a mutualism is the relationship between flowering plants and their pollinators. The plant benefits from the spread of pollen between flowers, while the pollinator receives some form of nourishment, either from nectar or the pollen itself. Commensalism is an interaction in which one species benefits and the other species is unaffected. Epiphytes (plants growing on other plants, usually trees) have a commensal relationship with their host plant because the epiphyte benefits in some way (e.g., by escaping competition with terrestrial plants or by gaining greater access to sunlight) while the host plant is apparently unaffected.”

Any group of people in just about any context can benefit by thinking along these very general lines. Are we detecting? Are we sending? Are others receiving? And what can be done to improve each component? The beauty of this is that complexity can be simplified. Perhaps the next time you’re confronted with a social, behavioral, or organizational puzzle or problem––simply think facilitation. What root system currently exists? And if there’s no root system in place, perhaps it’s time to create one.