It's strange. We are living in a time where there is a life-or-death need for social distancing and self-isolating, and at the same time, we need each other more than ever. Collectively, we are on the lowest level of Maslow's hierarchy -- survival. According to Darwin's theory of evolution, it should be "survival of the fittest." But instead I see the opposite. A new theory of evolution is emerging that might be called "survival through collaboration."
I once read about a study of two different bands of primates in Africa. One band was very aggressive and selfish, where males fought each other for domination. The other was more passive, where group members collaborated and were gentle with each other. At the beginning of the multi-year study the researchers predicted, using Darwin's theory, that the aggressive band of primates would thrive, and the collaborative band would not do well. There was a drought during the study, and a famine hit the land. In the aggressive, domineering group, males fought each other to the death over food, and their numbers dwindled. In the passive group, all the members collaboratively searched for food and shared what they found. The collaborative group thrived and grew. The researchers concluded that collaboration, not competition, may be the key to survival.
The pandemic has provided us an evolutionary opportunity to be collaborative. We can do simple things like wearing masks and social distancing. It's hard. We are social creatures, and it is our nature to get together to laugh and sing and hug. But these days those behaviors can be life-threatening. Ironically, we need to be socially distanced or self-isolating in order to be collaborative. This is the most loving thing we can do for one another.
I was taught the story of the sheep and the goats in Sunday school, where Jesus said: "Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me" (Matthew 25). This was my first awareness of our interconnectedness with each other and with the Divine. Now humanity is collectively being called not only to care for "the least of these," but for all of us.
We will get through this pandemic, one way or another, and it will be a test of our ability to evolve. At the same time, we can't forget the existential threat of climate crisis. There have been horrifying and record-breaking fires in California, Australia and Russia. Superstorms have devastated crops and cities. Global warming is melting glaciers, and seas are rising. The only way we can turn things around is through collaborative action and collective sacrifices.
Perhaps the lessons we learn in the pandemic will help us face the longer-term threat of climate crisis. Hopefully we will learn about our interconnection and how our individual actions affect the whole. Hopefully we will learn that collaboration is a more effective survival strategy than selfishness and aggressiveness. Hopefully we will learn more than ever to care for "the least of these."
Judi Neal, Ph.D. is the author of seven books on workplace spirituality and is the president of Edgewalkers International. Email her at [email protected]