Jan 03, 2009

Will 2009 be a nicer year?

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: American life| trendspotting

As the meltdown year of 2008 clicked over to the uncertain year of 2009, many people sung the new year in with the timeless Scottish song “Auld Lang Syne.” And many may have lingered a little longer than usual on that poignant line in the chorus—the one that says “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.” Writing about new year’s resolutions, USA Today highlighted people’s intention to be kinder in the coming year, quoting Joseph Grenny, co-author of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything: “When times are tough, usually people focus on survival needs, so the fact that people are worrying about survival while simultaneously worrying about others is a great vote of hope for humanity.”

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    Well, a nice sentiment for New Year's Day, but wholly unrealistic. Business owners large and small will attempt to lure customers away from their competitors with fervor. As the unsuccessful businesses cut costs they will send their employees to the unemployment line. Hungry laid off workers will elbow anybody who stands between them and a paycheck. Grenny sounds a lot like those russian theorists of old who wrote about mutual aid as a form of competition, AKA communism. But we know better. Social Darwinism and L'aissez faire capitalism usually rule the day. And it isn't so nice. Once the champagne of New Year's fades, that is.
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    Realism is important but so is hope and a little faith in the nicer side of human nature.

    If things turn really dire on a large scale ("hungry laid off workers") then it's going to be communities with some social cohesion that stand the best chance of pulling through. From this perspective, a measure of kindness is basically enlightened self-interest.
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