A note from Dale: My wife and I decided last year that we’d like to build something together. We decided that the best way to do that was to have her join AWP as my partner!
You will begin to see a more regular stream of articles from Erica moving forward. We’ll make sure to add the by-line at the top so you know who the author is.
I know you’ll appreciate her thoughtful insights and reflections as well as the higher quality writing.
On December 31, my mom called to tell me about a strange incident. She was standing in line at the bank when a well-dressed woman tapped her on the shoulder and threatened her with violence for taking the parking spot she wanted. My mom (a Buddhist) took the exchange in stride, but I couldn’t help but feel my own anger toward this stranger.
The next day, a front page article in The New York Times confirmed my suspicion that people are indeed becoming meaner to each other. Much like what happened to my mom, slight disappointments are sending people into fits of rage and causing them to lash out at the people around them.
This trend, hedge fund manager Ray Dalio argues, is a serious one. In his book, Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order, Dalio identifies fraying social fabric as one of the standard indicators of a great power’s decline.
In good and prosperous times there is a high level of social cohesion—people are more likely to hold similar values, see each other as part of the same team, and work together toward common goals. As economic challenges mount however, people are more likely to view each other as enemies and internal conflict escalates. This, according to Dalio, is where America is today.
“When winning becomes the only thing that matters, unethical fighting becomes progressively more forceful in self-reinforcing ways. When everyone has causes that they are fighting for and no one can agree on anything, the system is on the brink of civil war/revolution.”
My reaction to all of this is to harden myself against the world. If the big wheels of history really are turning and we are entering a stage of downfall, then it is everyone for themselves!
I am not so sure, however, that this is what the moment is asking of me.
As natural as it feels to hunker down and look after my own, ancient wisdom calls on me to prioritize kindness and human connection. We are asked to welcome the stranger and treat others as we would like to be treated in good times and bad.
The Daily Stoic summed it up beautifully in a recent email: “Helping each other, being there for each other—that is what we were born to do, the Stoics say again and again. We were designed for each other’s sake.”
Can individual acts of kindness save an empire?
No, probably not. But they might help us live up to our potential as humans no matter what is going on with the global superpowers.