Monday, November 10, 2008

We Are Hard-Wired to Care and Connect

David Korten, writing over at Yes! Magazine, offers a hopeful assessment of human nature and need to connect with and care about others.
We Are Hard-Wired to Care and Connect
by David Korten

The good news: The changes we must make to avoid ultimate collapse are identical to the changes we must make to create the world of our common dream.

Elders gather at the community center in Baker Lake. The Inuit are highly sociable people, and the community centers are busy in the evenings. Photo by John Hasyn
Elders gather at the community center in Baker Lake. The Inuit are highly sociable people, and the community centers are busy in the evenings.
Photo by John Hasyn
See John Hasyn’s PHOTO ESSAY on daily life among the Inuit of Nunavut, in northern Canada
The story of purple America is part of a yet larger human story. For all the cultural differences reflected in our richly varied customs, languages, religions, and political ideologies, psychologically healthy humans share a number of core values and aspirations. Although we may differ in our idea of the “how,” we want healthy, happy children, loving families, and a caring community with a beautiful, healthy natural environment. We want a world of cooperation, justice, and peace, and a say in the decisions that affect our lives. The shared values of purple America manifest this shared human dream. It is the true American dream undistorted by corporate media, advertisers, and political demagogues—the dream we must now actualize if there is to be a human future.

For the past 5,000 years, we humans have devoted much creative energy to perfecting our capacity for greed and violence—a practice that has been enormously costly for our children, families, communities, and nature. Now, on the verge of environmental and social collapse, we face an imperative to bring the world of our dreams into being by cultivating our long-suppressed, even denied, capacity for sharing and compassion.

Despite the constant mantra that “There is no alternative” to greed and competition, daily experience and a growing body of scientific evidence support the thesis that we humans are born to connect, learn, and serve and that it is indeed within our means to:

  • Create family-friendly communities in which we get our satisfaction from caring relationships rather than material consumption;

  • Achieve the ideal, which traces back to Aristotle, of creating democratic middle-class societies without extremes of wealth and poverty; and

  • Form a global community of nations committed to restoring the health of the planet and sharing Earth’s bounty to the long-term benefit of all (see YES! Summer 2008: A Just Foreign Policy).

The first step toward achieving the world we want is to acknowledge that there is an alternative to our current human course. We humans are not hopelessly divided and doomed to self-destruct by a genetic predisposition toward greed and violence.

Culture, the system of customary beliefs, values, and perceptions that encodes our shared learning, gives humans an extraordinary capacity to choose our destiny. It does not assure that we will use this capacity wisely, but it does give us the means to change course by conscious collective choice.

The Story in Our Head
The primary barrier to achieving our common dream is in fact a story that endlessly loops in our heads telling us that a world of peace and sharing is contrary to our nature—a naïve fantasy forever beyond reach. There are many variations, but this is the essence:

It is our human nature to be competitive, individualistic, and materialistic. Our well-being depends on strong leaders with the will to use police and military powers to protect us from one another, and on the competitive forces of a free, unregulated market to channel our individual greed to constructive ends. The competition for survival and dominance—violent and destructive as it may be—is the driving force of evolution. It has been the key to human success since the beginning of time, assures that the most worthy rise to leadership, and ultimately works to the benefit of everyone.

I call this our Empire story because it affirms the system of dominator hierarchy that has held sway for 5,000 years (see YES! Summer 2006: 5,000 Years of Empire). Underlying the economic and scientific versions of this story is a religious story which promises that enduring violence and injustice in this life will be rewarded with eternal peace, harmony, and bliss in the afterlife.

To reinforce the Empire myth, corporate media bombard us with reports of greed and violence, and celebrate as cultural heroes materially successful, but morally challenged politicians and corporate CEOs who exhibit a callous disregard for the human and environmental consequences of their actions.

Never mind the story’s moral contradictions and its conflict with our own experience with caring and trustworthy friends, family, and strangers. It serves to keep us confused, uncertain, and dependent on establishment-sanctioned moral authorities to tell us what is right and true. It also supports policies and institutions that actively undermine development of the caring, sharing relationships essential to responsible citizenship in a functioning democratic society. Fortunately, there is a more positive story that can put us on the road to recovery. It is supported by recent scientific findings, our daily experience, and the ageless teachings of the great religious prophets.

Read the whole article.

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