Cooperative Flourishing

Closeup of business people standing

The field of evolutionary biology provides evidence that collaboration is even more important than competition in the evolution of diverse and healthy ecosystems. It is not just about survival of the fittest; it is more importantly about the flourishing of cooperation. I think there is a lesson to learn here for our human social systems and for our relationship to the broader ecological community. Given that we are members of ecosystems and the natural world in general, this importance of cooperation also applies to our participation within local ecosystems and within the global biosphere as a whole. Competition has a place in the development of a good society, but without at least an equal emphasis on collaboration, we will not be able to create the kind of society that will allow for sustainable flourishing of human communities within ecological communities.

Too much competition in an ecosystem can actually lead to imbalance and instability, and too much competition in human community can lead to the inability for persons to enter into bonds of trust and community that promote the common good. Too much competition may even lead to violence and to war. If there is too much emphasis on competition in human community, it can diminish the capacity for persons to experience empathy for one another.  A disturbing trend among entering college freshmen in the United States is that they have become significantly less empathetic over the past three decades – 48% less empathetic according to the study referenced here:  Is the decrease in empathy a  result of the cultivation of a culture of competition rather than a culture of collaboration? Could it also be that we have become more comfortable relating to various forms of technology rather than cultivating personal relationships with one another? In either case, the resulting lack of empathy will likely make the collaboration needed to address our current global challenges even more difficult.

Our global problems are complex and systemic in nature. The culture of competition has not proven effective by itself in addressing our global ecological problems. For human community to be healthy, stable, and sustainable, we need to take a lesson from evolution and become a more cooperative society that intentionally finds ways of caring for one another and caring for the planet. What is needed to cultivate the empathetic and collaborative society that is needed to make the significant changes necessary to avoid ecological and economic collapse and the tearing of our social fabric? This is one of the most urgent questions of our time. The collaborative and increasingly widespread efforts of those attempting to take the threat of climate change seriously provide some hope that a significant empathetic shift is a possibility. It is important that we join and enhance these ongoing collaborative efforts for a more sustainable future.

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