For […] material, institutional and cultural reasons, modern times are ill-equipped to meet the challenges posed by the demanding sort of cooperation. I’ll frame this weakness in a way that might seem initially odd: modern society is ‘de-skilling’ people in practising cooperation.*
A question formed as I listened to the contributions of those I met with for a virtual breakfast conversation about the future. We had been asked to share, from our different perspectives, something of the affects of Covid-19 and, coming from education, service, healthcare, government and businesses, there were many rich responses noting both challenge and possibility.
When identifying a de-skilling in cooperation, Richard Sennett points to an increasing income gap between those at the top and bottom of our societies, the siloing of workers and managements and leadership, the short-term nature of employment, and the homogenising rather than valuing of difference as being to blame for this.
Perhaps in these times, we are seeing a rapid re-skilling in cooperation and collaboration among many in our societies. When there is great need, we see how capable we are to do this.
What we are possibly seeing is the forming of communitas:** groups of people deeply cooperating around a shared goal. What we may also note, if this is what we are seeing, is how this kind of community, may dissipate once the need is met or the crisis is past.
What we have seen is just how complex and interwoven our lives are, with an outbreak of this form of coronovirus in Wuhan spreading so rapidly, making a nonsense of the very things Sennett identifies as de-skilling us.
The complexities will continue beyond the crisis and will require a level of cooperation that is increasingly sustainable amongst the human race.
The question, then, forming for me is:
Will there be a considerable minority of people who are significantly shaped by this experience, who will help us work towards a better future?
I guess we may only begin to answer this on a personal level:
Will I allow myself to be changed by these experiences so that my future will include working with others for a better world?
(*From Richard Sennett’s Together.)
(**From Victor Turner’s The Ritual Process.)