Tapestry Thinking for Flourishing Futures

January 31, 2023

A compelling concept woven throughout the recent 2022 Nova Annual Conference was “tapestry thinking” and ways we can embrace this idea to help people, places, and the planet flourish. Here we highlight just a few presentations from our amazing speakers to inspire you!

Susan Prescott, Director of the Nova Network and creative quilt-maker of the online event, sets the scene for a gathering that focuses on finding new ways to restore balance in both natural and human-made systems. Susan says solutions to our planetary dilemmas lie in understanding the complex symbiotic connections of all things, from the microscopic to the macro, and that the human heart is key as we seek unity, connection, inspiration, and love.

In her keynote address, Nalini Nadkarni, Professor of Biology at the University of Utah, takes us on her journey as an ecologist who has successfully woven the threads of recreational, spiritual, and social justice values into her quest to improve planetary health.

She shares five insightful practices we can adopt to embrace tapestry thinking in our own lives, and asks: who else sits at the loom? Nalini believes the answer lies within all of us, and that we can interweave understandings and interactions with humility to create a tapestry of care for our planet — creating something “complex, connected, useful, strong, and beautiful.”

African Indigenous Knowledge Systems practitioner Rutendo Ngara urges the integration of Indigenous and Western knowledge as she shares lessons from the weaver bird, from fractals woven into African artifacts, and from the Niger River that “defies efficiency to create life and biodiversity.”

Rutendo advocates for what she terms “cognitive justice” — the rights of different traditions of knowledge to co-exist without duress. She demonstrates how the principles of ubuntu and sankifa capture the essence of human connections and the link between the past and the future — a systems thinking approach that can address the challenges of our time.

Monica Gagliano, Research Associate Professor of Evolutionary Ecology and Director of the Biological Intelligence Lab at Southern Cross University, weaves together her thoughts on the connections between trees (her speciality), truth, and trust. 

She discusses the paradox of modern science that seeks truth while falsely asserting we can be objective and separate from the natural systems we observe. Monica argues that the Earth is not fragile, it is we humans that are a fragile species who must remember our place in the universe. We are not apart from the Earth, we are “made of her,” and the “Earth problem” is an alarm bell going off suggesting we need to both behave and “be here” differently

Looking at the relational webs in which we’re entangled and enmeshed, Blake Poland, professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, shares the “relational turn perspective” that views processes as “constitutive rather than derivative” of entities (like bodies, trees, rocks) and how this way of thinking can further sustainability science.

He believes “radical interconnectedness” and lessons from Indigenous knowledge, feminist perspectives, and the ethics of care would further our work to protect people and the planet. Beyond feeling mere obligation, his suggestion that we bring an “attitude of savoring and delight” to our work toward a sustainable future is a sure remedy for feelings of discouragement about current planetary health problems.

Where have you witnessed “tapestry thinking”? What threads have you been weaving that could lead to better health for all beings and systems? We’d love to hear about it — share your thoughts and ideas below! 


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