We Are Hard-Wired to Care and Connect

By David Korten | Website

Reprinted from  "Purple America," the Fall 2008 YES! Magazine
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The story of purple America is part of a
yet larger human story. For all the cultural differences reflected in
our richly varied customs, languages, religions, and political
ideologies, psychologically healthy humans share a number of core
values and aspirations. Although we may differ in our idea of the
“how,” we want healthy, happy children, loving families, and a caring
community with a beautiful, healthy natural environment. We want a
world of cooperation, justice, and peace, and a say in the decisions
that affect our lives. The shared values of purple America manifest
this shared human dream. It is the true American dream undistorted by
corporate media, advertisers, and political demagogues—the dream we
must now actualize if there is to be a human future.

For the past 5,000 years, we humans have devoted much creative energy
to perfecting our capacity for greed and violence—a practice that has
been enormously costly for our children, families, communities, and
nature. Now, on the verge of environmental and social collapse, we face
an imperative to bring the world of our dreams into being by
cultivating our long-suppressed, even denied, capacity for sharing and

Despite the constant mantra that “There is no alternative” to greed and
competition, daily experience and a growing body of scientific evidence
support the thesis that we humans are born to connect, learn, and serve
and that it is indeed within our means to:

  • Create family-friendly communities in which we get our satisfaction from caring relationships rather than material consumption;
  • Achieve the ideal, which traces back to Aristotle, of creating
    democratic middle-class societies without extremes of wealth and
    poverty; and
  • Form a global community of nations committed to restoring the
    health of the planet and sharing Earth’s bounty to the long-term
    benefit of all

The first step toward achieving the world we want is to acknowledge
that there is an alternative to our current human course. We humans are
not hopelessly divided and doomed to self-destruct by a genetic
predisposition toward greed and violence. Culture, the system of
customary beliefs, values, and perceptions that encodes our shared
learning, gives humans an extraordinary capacity to choose our destiny.
It does not assure that we will use this capacity wisely, but it does
give us the means to change course by conscious collective choice.

The Story in Our Head
The primary barrier to achieving our common dream is in fact a story
that endlessly loops in our heads telling us that a world of peace and
sharing is contrary to our nature—a naïve fantasy forever beyond reach.
There are many variations, but this is the essence:

It is our human nature to be competitive, individualistic, and
materialistic. Our well-being depends on strong leaders with the will
to use police and military powers to protect us from one another, and
on the competitive forces of a free, unregulated market to channel our
individual greed to constructive ends. The competition for survival and
dominance—violent and destructive as it may be—is the driving force of
evolution. It has been the key to human success since the beginning of
time, assures that the most worthy rise to leadership, and ultimately
works to the benefit of everyone.

I call this our Empire story because it affirms the system of dominator
hierarchy that has held sway for 5,000 years. Underlying the economic
and scientific versions of this story is a religious story which
promises that enduring violence and injustice in this life will be
rewarded with eternal peace, harmony, and bliss in the afterlife.

To reinforce the Empire myth, corporate media bombard us with reports
of greed and violence, and celebrate as cultural heroes materially
successful, but morally challenged politicians and corporate CEOs who
exhibit a callous disregard for the human and environmental
consequences of their actions.

Never mind the story’s moral contradictions and its conflict with
our own experience with caring and trustworthy friends, family, and
strangers. It serves to keep us confused, uncertain, and dependent on
establishment-sanctioned moral authorities to tell us what is right and
true. It also supports policies and institutions that actively
undermine development of the caring, sharing relationships essential to
responsible citizenship in a functioning democratic society.
Fortunately, there is a more positive story that can put us on the road
to recovery. It is supported by recent scientific findings, our daily
experience, and the ageless teachings of the great religious prophets.

More in two weeks…