Nature is teaching us that we need each other. That community and cooperation are ultimately more important than separateness and competition.
Here in America, our founding document is the Declaration of Independence. Our national story has always emphasized the importance of independence and personal freedom. And we in America have pushed the notion of independence farther than any society before us.
Now Nature is calling us back to balance. It is showing us that we are, in fact, inter-dependent, and that our inter-dependence is more fundamental than our independence.
How is it doing that? This pandemic is a major event in the lives of our young people and it will shape them for the rest of their lives.
Many were already living with more anxiety and uncertainty than the generation before them. Those who grew up during the dot.com crash of 2001 and the financial crash of 2008 have never known a world that was stable and dependable. Fear and uncertainty have been a part of their experience for their entire lives. And now they see their entire world turned upside down in a matter of weeks. How is this experience shaping them?
I saw how my father was shaped by his early life. He was a salesman, working on straight commission during the Roaring Twenties and then during the Great Depression. That meant that he had no guaranteed income – no wage, no salary, no social safety net – just a percentage of his sales each month. If he made no sales, he got no pay.
And the experience shaped him for life. For the rest of his life, he wore only brown and blue suits with a white shirt and a plain tie. Even his socks could be only solid brown or blue. Why? Because that was the uniform he had to wear to sell during the Twenties and the Depression. Even decades later, when he had a government job with a secure salary, he could not break out of that uniform. It was a security blanket for him.
The experience of my generation, the Baby Boomers, was very different. We grew up during times of stability and prosperity. That made us feel safe enough to spread our wings and explore ourselves as individuals. It gave us the time and space to heal and grow and value ourselves as individuals, leading to the civil- and individual-rights movements and to the human potential movement. This was a good thing, but it over-emphasized our independence and under-emphasized our inter-dependence.
Now, this worldwide pandemic is shifting everyone's focus. It is calling us all back to balance and especially shaping the lives of those who are young now. It is weakening our belief that the organizing principle of our lives should be competition – expressed in sayings such as “Only the strong survive” and “To the winner go the spoils” – and strengthening our awareness that we rise and fall together, often expressed as “We are in this together” and “We need each other.”
In this fight, we do not win by defeating others.
We win by caring for others.
We win by collaborating.
This is a revolution in our understanding of life. It is a reversal of our oldest and most fundamental belief, the law of the jungle.
And this is a world-wide phenomenon, an experience that is shaping the lives of everyone, but especially the young, everywhere around the world. If this pandemic moves our focus from competition to collaboration, it will have reshaped humanity.
And it will have reshaped the world. This is the building block that will enable us to deal successfully with climate change and overpopulation and income inequality. This is the next step in saving us all from our instinctual selfishness and violence.