We’re living in a time were both possibilities and problems have no limits and borders. The more we are connected by technology and economic interdependence, the more we are connected through our challenges within that wider community.
The solution of the global problems seems obvious: cooperation across borders.
But borders are there for a reason: they are built through cultural groupings, religions and nation states protecting their own. Within countries, there are also the less visible borders of financial inequality within and between countries.
One might think that by creating a common value system we could transcend our borders as our common values enhance cooperation amongst the members of a healthy global community.
Let’s assume for a moment that this will work and let’s explore that value system: What components would we find? Experts agree that charity, fairness, benevolence, loyalty and the protection of the rights and freedoms are THE common values around the world. Translated to our daily behaviours, this means being guided by a positive conscience, virtues, strong inner sense of justice, and an understanding of the consequences of our actions. Unfortunately, these components often prove to be highly ineffective when it comes to resolving conflicts.
Why is that?
We tend to apply these values only to members of our own community and not to “non-members” or members of other groups. So, we have values and live by them, but in order to be able to resolve conflicts between groups or even on a global level we need to expand our borders and identify what it is we understand – what our community or group is.
Within a group we have a common purpose. This is important and helps us deal with local conflicts very well: we respect the perspective and points of views of our fellow members. By changing our perspective and walking in our colleagues’ shoes we cooperate effectively appreciating both points of view.
Amongst our many values there is one “driving value” which is powerful enough that it creates synergies from our different perspectives and is therefore a great facilitator for cooperation. It’s the value of Charity. It is experienced as graciousness, benevolence and love. Is this the purest form of altruism? It moves us to care about the well-being of others within our group.
The last part of the latter sentence says it all: “within our group”. Soldiers, for example, are trained to dehumanise their enemies in order to be able to fire if necessary. They must switch off this value in order to be able to kill members of another group.
This kind of dilemma is called the “Us-Them-problem” (Joshua Green). Evolution prepared us to deal effectively with the “I-We-problem”, to put our own interests below those of others within our social community. This has been critical for our survival. It didn’t, however, prepare us to cooperate with “Them”. In transnational business, global pollution and multi-country conflict something more is needed. An emotional extension of our borders has become crucial for our survival NOW.
Learning how to do this is a great opportunity. It may be the only chance to overcome global problems and to resolve conflicts effectively. This requires developing a new vision with an expanded identity which spreads beyond borders – a global identity as an add-on to our existing local ones. This may allow us to change perspectives, combine points of view and to care for others within and beyond our own communities.