The inability to care for much beyond our immediate needs or loved ones is perhaps the greatest challenge of our times. A recent report from WWF claimed that humanity “has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970” and that this “threatens the survival of civilisation” - but even this is unlikely to change our daily consumption patterns.
Or consider for example that according to the World Health Organization, there are more than one billion people in the world living with a disability. Taken together, people with disabilities constitute the largest minority in the world, yet they are one of the most vulnerable and marginalised populations. This culture of exclusion arises from fear and from a lack of caring for those who are different from us. Given that anyone can acquire a disability at any time, this lack of caring for people with disabilities does not make sense for our own interests, let alone for those and their families who live every day in a world that has not been designed for or with them.
However, recent studies show that caring for others is good for us. It’s beneficial to our well-being. Giving support to others out of choice leads to “reduced stress, increased happiness, and an increased sense of social connectedness”. Even caring for a pet can have a calming effect and can provide meaning and purpose. And when we are less stressed, happier and better socially integrated, we make better decisions for the long-term. Caring for others makes economic sense too. As the population ages, in the United States alone it is estimated that “employment of healthcare occupations is projected to grow 18% from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations”. With so much anxiety over the future of jobs in the age of automation, a career in caring for others seems like a good bet.
Caring for others also allows us to see the world from a different perspective. Diversity is perhaps the most hotly contested issue today; however, for business there is no doubt that it is good for the bottom line. A McKinsey report examining data from more than 350 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the United Kingdom and the United States showed that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians, and this is 15% more likely for those in the top quartile for gender diversity.
Caring for nature is part of the same equation. Our own survival is linked to biodiversity. As National Geographic reminds us: “Plants help humans by giving off oxygen. They also provide food, shade, construction material, medicines. The root system of plants helps prevent flooding. Plants, fungi, and animals such as worms keep soil fertile and water clean. As biodiversity decreases, these systems break down.” Our systems break down.
The previous waves of globalization have encoded in our minds that it is competition rather than collaboration that will ensure our individual flourishing. But it was not always so. Anthropologist Samuel Veissière references evolutionary theorists Kim Sterelny and Tad Zawidski’s research that “our species survived, evolved and thrived precisely because of ongoing collective efforts to ensure that everyone got their share and was kept alive, regardless of the symmetry of contribution.” So, it seems, we were not always wary of freeloaders.
As we look to the future we need to think laterally and find inspiration elsewhere - perhaps from ancient thought and philosophical systems such as Taoist ethics, which espouse selflessness and spontaneity. We will need to reimagine the world entirely, like the Sufi leader Cheikh Bentounes who thinks of humanity as one unique body, with our overall health connected to the health of all our body parts. Or educate ourselves better on the links between nutrition and wellbeing and radically reconsider our sacred relationship to meat. Rethink entirely how we learn and what we think we know about people’s capacity to change; Carol Dweck’s “Growth Mindset” theory gives hope that the plasticity in our brains can allow children, those leaders of tomorrow, to change the course of “fixed” behaviours.
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Whether we like it or not, we are all different and we are all interconnected. Constructed concepts such as race and national identity, or abled and disabled people, cannot change the fact that we are all part of an ecosystem. Retreating from the reality of diversity and the complexities of the world’s challenges by creating a bubble protective only of our needs and of our kin is in fact against our own self-interest. It would be best right now to incentivise ourselves and others to care for others. To help someone out of choice, volunteer at a shelter, or create a more inclusive and accessible workplace, so that we can make better decisions that are good for us, good for business, and good for the planet.
At Davos 2019, politicians, CEOs, experts and cultural change-makers will tackle how to build a new architecture for a “Globalization 4.0”. Any new such architecture must be inherently inclusive and sustainable, inclusive of all people, and in harmony with our wider ecology. The only way this will be possible is if it is nourished by a renewed culture of caring for others - if not out of altruism, at least in the knowledge that it is in our self-interest.