Through the ages, we have weathered conflict, tragedy and change, often by changing ourselves. While we form a basis of denial on our need to move ahead, it cannot be denied that the world around us is changing, and with it, we must change too. But in our world where independence is our most revered asset, we fail to realize that it takes more than just one person to make change; if we are truly going to thrive in this new world, we need to evolve to become cooperative, not just coexisting.
Our American philosophy has been shaped throughout history by our puritanical values; our founding fathers were vastly Puritan, or of puritanical origin, and many of our laws have shown a deep root in the values of this society. Despite our outward devotion to a system of unbiased laws and fair and balanced work, and our progression past our old failings, we remain staunchly Puritan. We dislike change, and would rather support a system that allows us to keep tradition; we have added religious remarks to our currency, our pledge of allegiance and our slang; and since the beginning we have had fundamental leanings away from those not of our culture, despite having been immigrants ourselves.
These Puritanical values espouse the ability to thrive, to work hard and to support a family. Since we were young, we were taught that we were different, that different is good and that working together creates more problems than it solves. Our heroes are typically independent, rising from poverty to success, or expanding on what their ancestors could not. If someone has talent, we isolate them from those who are different, and instead of teaching them to work with their peers, we teach them that they are their own natural resource, and that only what they plant can they reap.
Unfortunately, these individualistic characteristics are tearing apart our society; despite our potential for success, our individuality creates conflict. Every war in history has been encouraged by two opposed factions, and while conflict can happen between members of a group, the only way that they become conflicted is if one or the other develops a sense of superiority over the other. Companies in our competitive market are viewed not as groups of people working together; they are legally individuals in a system where the masses are characteristically assimilated into larger corporations that function on a much higher scale, but are still subject to the conditions of encouraging every employee to break from the pack.
In the upcoming century, there will be massive changes to every landscape imaginable, as has happened for the past millennia. If we are to survive, we can’t afford to have this widely unforgiving, every-man-for-himself philosophy. No group fighting for equality has ever won by splitting up; they won by working together until their opposition had to back down. No movement has ever gained support by becoming factions. They have moved ahead by allowing their differences become what makes them great.
And although many groups have striven to further their goal, only by casting aside their fundamental differences have they ever seen how similar they are and how they can move on. Our very society has survived on its unity, which comes about only when we are able to set aside our lonely mindset and focus on the problem at hand.
The oldest organism alive is a grove of aspen trees in Utah. Not a tree, not a single organism, but a grove. And if we are to survive as a society, we have to become the human equivalent: a community.
Jesse Allison studies psychology. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.