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How the Common Good Is Transforming Our World

The rise of the common good is both a necessary path for survival and security on an interdependent planet and the path towards personal psychological health, success and well being in this new world era.
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In my previous post I wrote about a rising social psychosis that's visible in three areas of our society. It's likely to prevail for some time, but I think it's like a wave that's crested and will crash to the shore. The reason is that the social psychosis is a backlash against a steadily growing consciousness and behavior that refocuses personal lives and public policies towards promoting the common good.

By the "common good" I'm referring to a broad evolution beyond values and actions that serve narrow self-interest, and towards those guided by inclusiveness -- supporting well-being, economic success, security, human rights and stewardship of resources for the benefit of all, rather than just for some.

It's like a stealth operation, because it hasn't become highly visible yet. But polls, surveys and research data reveal several strands of change that are coalescing in this overall direction. I describe each of them below. They may appear to be unrelated, but I think they're driven by an underlying perspective that we're all like organs of the same body, and the body doesn't thrive if any of the organs is neglected or diseased.

It's an awareness of interconnection of all lives on this planet, and a pull towards acting upon that reality in a range of ways. They include rethinking personal relationships, the responsibility of business to society, and the role of government in an interdependent world.

A 21st-Century Mindset

The rise of the common good reflects a sense of global citizenship and an obligation to be a good ancestor to future generations who inhabit this planet. In fact, it embodies behavior and policies that fit the needs for effective functioning -- both personal and political -- in our post-9/11, post-economic meltdown world.

That is, in previous posts I've argued that this new era of unpredictable change in a non-equilibrium world requires new criteria for psychological health and resiliency, beyond just effective stress management and coping. Others have emphasized the new mindset that's needed for effective business and leadership strategies in this interconnected era.

For example, Matt Bai has described in the New York Times that "[n]ow we live in an integrated world where American jobs rely on the economic policies of governments in Asia or Latin America, while our security is subject to the whims of a cleric living in a cave," and, "[w]ith global interdependence comes a certain lack of control, a vulnerability to disparate influence."

Similarly, CUNY professor and blogger Jeff Jarvis refers to a "great restructuring of the economy and society, starting with a fundamental change in our relationships -- how we are linked and intertwined and how we act."

And Umair Haque writes in his Harvard Business School blog about the new principles of a new economy "built around stewardship, trusteeship, guardianship, leadership, partnership," adding that "[a]s interaction explodes, the costs of evil are starting to outweigh the benefits." In effect, transparency will become the antidote to evil.

Let's look at some of the seemingly disparate themes of the massive shift underway that has spawned the current social psychosis.

The New Norm of Racial-Ethnic Diversity

As you read these words, the country is becoming more diverse. Some demographers believe that 2010 could be the first year that most children born in the country will be non-white. Already, five states have a majority non-white population. New York Times columnist Charles Blow captured a slice of this at the time of the passage of health care legislation, writing that "[a] woman [Nancy Pelosi] pushed the health care bill through the House. The bill's most visible and vocal proponents included a gay man [Barney Frank] and a Jew [Anthony Weiner]. And the black man in the White House signed the bill into law. It's enough to make a good old boy go crazy."

Nearly 20 percent of counties in the U.S. have, or are close to, a nonwhite majority. This shift is steadily changing the social landscape. The trend is towards movement in the direction of tolerance, acceptance and valuing -- rather than fearing or hating -- the increasingly diverse composition of American society. And that includes the rising numbers of those with multi-racial/ethnic backgrounds. Moreover, research finds that the latter group tends to be open-minded and more oriented to inclusiveness and openness.

Volunteer Service

Data show that the number of volunteers is steadily growing among all age groups. During 2009, about 64 million Americans did volunteer work (defined as unpaid volunteer activities through an organization.) That's nearly 27 percent of the populations and reflects a steady year-by-year increase, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report. And a rapid rise of volunteerism has occurred in the last decade among men and women in their 30s and 40s. Today, people describe volunteerism as part of their sense of responsibility to help others in need, not something for padding their resume.

Donations of Organs by Living Donors to Strangers

That number is steadily rising. For example, kidney donations from living donors have outnumbered those from deceased donors since 2003. Some states, such as Wisconsin, offer tax deductions for expenses related to living organ donations.

Hands-On Philanthropy

This trend is towards wanting contributions to have visible, direct impact upon people's lives. More are turning away from writing checks to well-heeled organizations like universities or cultural centers. This trend is visible among venture capitalists who bring a high-impact perspective to venture philanthropy as well as among average citizens, who increasingly contribute to international organizations that help people become more self-sufficient in daily life -- for example, through micro finance (providing small loans to individuals starting businesses in impoverished countries), or purchasing a goat for a family that relies on small farming for their livelihood, or paying the salary of a schoolteacher in an impoverished part of the world.

Responsibility for a Healthy Planet

Despite the continued denial of the reality of climate change and the human contributions to it by the GOP, a denial unmatched among major political parties around the globe, pressure continues to build, both politically and on a grassroots level, for actions that reverse or halt climate change and promote sustainable living. Among the latter are groups like, the Alliance for Climate Protection and community alliances of citizens, businesses and government such as Bethesda Green, in Bethesda, Md. This trend is underscored by the steadily rising financial contributions to environmental organizations.

Support For Human Rights

Data show a steady increase of both financial contributions to and membership in such organizations as Human Rights Watch, Save the Children, Amnesty International, Mercy Corps International and others. Even in the absence of effective action, consciousness continues to build around the perspective that violations of rights to safety, dignity and personal freedom for another -- anywhere in the world -- affect oneself, as well. In addition, the view of security and human rights is expanding to include not only freedom from violence and terrorism, but also the rights to health care, support of older citizens, rights to adequate housing, food, fair wages and other conditions. A recent U.N. report examines these issues with respect to responsibilities and actions of member nations.

Personal Success

I've written previously that men and women increasingly want a "4.0 career": one that provides more than personal recognition, power and financial reward. They want meaningful work, opportunities for continued learning and growth, a positive management culture and a team-oriented, ethical environment. They want to have impact on something larger than just their own personal success. These themes are especially pronounced among younger workers.

The Social Impact of Business

Business leaders have already bought into the need for sustainability, and many are contributing to the rise of a new business model, one that addresses social problems and serves the common good as well as achieving financial success. The "green business" movement reflects this shift, along with the concept of the "triple bottom line." Related trends include sustainable investing, social entrepreneurialism, corporate social responsibility, building a psychologically healthy management culture, and transparency via open access to information and corporate disclosure policies.

Acceptance of Gay Relationships and Gay Marriage

Acceptance of gay relationships has steadily increased, while opposition to gay marriage has steadily decreased, when tracked over the last several years, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Between one-quarter and one-third of gay and lesbian couples are raising children, a steadily rising number. And the most current surveys indicate that about half of all Americans support gay marriage.

Families And Relationships Are Transforming
A majority of Americans now say their definition of family includes same-sex couples with children, as well as married gay and lesbian couples. Regarding intimate relationships, surveys by the Gallup organization and other groups find that the quality of the relationship is more important to people today than simple allegiance to the institution of marriage. Census statistics and other data confirm this, showing, for example, a steady decline in the marriage rate over the last several decades, while cohabitation has steadily risen in each of those same decades. About half of all households today are headed by people who are single. And unmarried couples are as likely as married couples to be raising children: it's currently approaching 50 percent.

Some surveys report that at least 30 percent of those polled admit to having had an affair. Whether that's accurate or not, the upshot is that affairs are no longer viewed as immoral in today's culture. Moreover, attitudes towards prostitution are also shifting towards greater acceptance and focus on the rights of sex workers.

So, these are just some of the pervasive shifts underway. My read is that they link around an underlying theme that our culture is evolving in both consciousness and action, and that evolution will grow and strengthen over time. That's why the current social psychosis will fade. That's not only hopeful but important: The rise of the common good is both a necessary path for survival and security on an interdependent planet and the path towards personal psychological health, success and well being in this new world era.

Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., a business psychologist and psychotherapist, is Director of the Center for Progressive Development, in Washington, D.C. You may contact him at

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