Paul Hargreaves: It’s time to focus on our interdependence
Something I have been reflecting upon again this week is our interdependence. If this pandemic has taught us anything surely it has taught us exactly how interdependent our world is. If an incident in a wet fish market in China (although this is now doubted by some) can put the whole world on lockdown, then those who go about their everyday lives imagining that their decisions do not impact those in different parts of the world must surely think again. We have lived our lives as individuals for far too long, it is time to focus on our interdependence.
My brother lives near Muir Woods in Marin County and I have been twice to see the Coastal Redwoods whilst visiting him and his wife. The first time I went I stood for an hour in absolute awe looking up into the canopy absolutely astonished at the sheer height of these amazing trees. The photos I took simply do not do them justice. Some of these trees are 300 feet high and over 2,500 years old, so you would think that they have the most amazing root system that reaches down hundreds of feet into the earth. I found out several years later that the root system of these giants are very shallow indeed but all the roots are inter-twined. They are completed locked to each other and despite storms and strong winds very rarely fall down because the trees support and protect each other. This is interdependence.
Yet many of us have been indoctrinated in our education and up-bringing to think of ourselves as isolated individuals, to maximise our income whatever the impact to others, to buy products as cheaply as possible whatever the impact to the much poorer country where the product is made. We have been trained, particularly in the business world to win, to beat our competitors, and if we are winning, they are losing, but that zero sum game doesn’t work any longer. We can work in a way that benefits everyone. As business leaders we can easily tell stories to ourselves that we deserve to win as an individual; “we have worked 12 hour days for this for years, so what if others in the world are in poverty, we deserve our success.” There is nothing wrong with enjoying some of the luxuries of life, but if there are other people in our company, in our community or within our supply chains who are suffering as a result, we have a major problem. As Martin Luther King said, “As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars.”
This pandemic has seen extremely individualist behaviour at the same time as many others are realising their interdependence. We have seen individualistic hoarding in supermarkets, an attempt by Trump to acquire IP on a vaccine and companies treating their people appallingly in order to maintain their bottom line. The individualist response is all about winners and losers, but the interdependent response means us realising we can’t win alone. We are only as strong as the weakest link within our community or country. Let’s consider that this week and see how it changes our behaviour.