While there are times for being alone, the true state of people is in community, doing things. From humankind's earliest days around the fire, we have continued to benefit from the joys and strengths of being and building together.
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While we all need close friends and cohesive project teams, we also need perspective, diversity and resources to succeed. Spending too much time with just one group stifles both us and the group. Taken far enough, we can come to believe that our group is the only one with merit and the right thinking.
One of the danger signs for a group, and for society, is when some members become very successful or wealthy, and begin to withdraw from the wider community — limiting access to their skills and removing the shared assets that the group provided. This is at the crux of both the Occupy movement and the global difficulties we are experiencing today.
In the post-war economic boom of the 1940s to 1960s, there was widespread and eager participation by many types of people — sharing the possibilities and empowerment that working together brings. It was a time of immense productivity. There was not just economic growth, but the actual improvement of people's lives. Working folks worked hard, creative people designed new things, and rich people contributed through taxes, networking and building. It was a great era of shared efforts and benefits, involving a group that was wonderfully large and inclusive.
Unfortunately, the rise of the stock market and the allure of a free market ended these shared efforts and benefits. It became possible for wealthy people to become wealthier, this time without sharing the benefits. The reduction in taxes for the wealthy in recent years has further split our formerly cooperative country — it has dried up the funds needed for new improvement and research, and made it extremely difficult for the wealthy to care about or be committed to the wider community. Working folks, enthused at first by the post-war improvements, and now just fearful for their livelihoods, have been cast adrift from the shared participation of those with the money to change the world again.
We have become a society of "us and them", principally due to greed and fear no longer being balanced by shared purpose and community. With special financial mechanisms now solidly in place, the wealthy have lost the need to participate in the greater community. There's been a world-wide disconnect in the money stream, isolating the workers from the investors.
And that is sad. Because while it's probably great to have fancy food every day and to jet about, I think that the people who worked together in the post-war period had a better life. They had shared goals and exciting dreams, and they knew that their efforts were helping more than just themselves. They understood the joy of moving forward together. Today's wealthy people seem to have forgotten how invigorating and worthwhile good projects are, and no longer recognize how financial growth isn't the same as improving lives locally, nationally and around the globe.
A few of the wealthy and powerful recognize the need for a change. At the recent Davos World Economic Forum conference, the CEO of accounting giant Deloitte, Joe Echevarria, talked about developing "compassionate capitalism." Similarly, Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien says “Corporations need to engage in giving a chunk of their profits to social issues." So there is a seed of awareness about the growing inequality.
Much of the world's wealth is unused, shuffling around in virtual piles, as wealthy people wait for something good that they can invest in and be part of.
But actually, those opportunities are here already — in every corner of our world — ready to be invested in again. The opportunities are here — embodied by the universal understanding that people shouldn't be hungry, sick or denied the dignity of good work when there is more than enough of everything — we are stuck en route to a better future.
There are calls to create a new model for the future, but maybe what's needed is for us to return to the sensible ways that have helped us before — with taxes, benefits and a shared commitment for all.
Let's remember what real community is, how fulfilling our roles with courage brings dignity, and embrace the joy of building things again, together.