Working toward societies that are sustainable requires us to examine our values. That is, we must examine the stories we tell ourselves that make our worlds. I think there are two common stories that are particularly pernicious and damaging: The first is the story that as a species we are successful because we compete with each other and the second story is that successful people are successful because of their own efforts, and therefore those of us that struggle; its our own fault. Both of these stories are questionable and just so incredibly damaging.
Let’s begin with the first myth, that we are successful because we compete. Ever since Darwin wrote the Origin of the Species scientist’s, including Darwin, have understood that we are successful because we compete and because we cooperate (Emphasis mine). We are successful because we cooperate. Think about it, when we lived in small groups on the savanna, cooperation was absolutely necessary for the group and individual. I regularly remind my students of this. The second myth, that our successful citizens are successful because of their own efforts is also a questionable story. Everyone knows the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. And if you think about outcomes in a systems way, then our systems are designed for failure. Here is a thought experiment; at age sixteen we are working and dreaming for success in life. How many succeed? Only a tiny few. That’s what the system is designed to achieve; failure for almost everyone. Never-mind all of the motivational speakers. That we hear so many stories about successful people and are encouraged to emulate them is a con; a convenient myth supported by an unrecognized tendency to ignore the the survivor-ship (or success) fallacy implicate in these stories. Following the advice of a few fortunate ones won’t help the vast majority of us. That is not the way the world works. Making progress toward more sustainable societies requires, re-examining and changing these two myths.
These are not new ideas for me.
This week I found this podcast where researchers, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picett were interviewed. Their new book, “The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Wellbeing” examines these critical issues. I encourage use all to listen to the podcast, read the book and examine the stories we live our lives by.
Kia Toa Kia Ngakaunui
“Have Courage, Desire Greatly”
Wealth inequality has skyrocketed in the UK, as has anxiety, stress and mental illness. Could the two be linked? Richard Lea investigates