Frank Bruni of the New York Times is one of my favorite columnists. Not only is he a keen observer of the human landscape, he is also a superb craftsman of the language.
In his most recent piece, Bruni uses the microcosm of a commercial airline flight to point out some of the causes and effects of our inability as a society to find consensus, act with compassion or behave with civility.
He calls air travel today “a mile-high mirror of our talent for pettiness, our tendency toward selfishness, our disconnection from one another and our increasing demarcation of castes. Courtesy is dead. The plane is its graveyard.”
He is so right. Not only in his rueing of the horrors of today’s reality in air travel, but also in explaining why so much of society is broken. His most telling point is that, “There’s little sense of a common good, no rules that everybody follows so that nobody gets a raw deal. Instead there’s an ethic of every passenger for himself or herself.” With no common purpose, no understanding of our Oneness as a species and as part of the larger planet Earth, we allow selfishness to become our dominant theme. This carries through before and after we undertake a transcontinental or transoceanic flight. It explains, at least in large part, the bottleneck that has become our Congress, the suspicion that has become our default response to strangers, the fear that characterizes so much of our national discourse and our interpersonal communication.
The infamous pseudo-Libertarian author Ayn Rand in 1964 published a collection of essays she and her partner Nathaniel Branden authored entitled The Virtue of Selfishness. This counter-cultural compilation of phony intellectualism gave political cover to many so-called leaders in that and subsequent decades and has become far more a clarion cry of the Libertarian movement which co-opted her than her better-known The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. A dozen years later Richard Dawkins published The Selfish Gene, which made of virtue an inexorable force of nature, further entrenching it in an American psyche already steeped in and prepared for it by the all-too-recent experience of the Wild West.
But the truth is that, while selfishness has its role, it cannot be allowed to dominate. When it does, you get what you see around you today in a planet drowning and sweltering in its capitalist productivity built on an economic foundation of boundless resource and boundless greed.
I have maintained for several years that the only way I see out of this mess is for a generation of humanity to harbor a Tipping Point (after Malcolm Gladwell’s wonderful book) of sufficiently enlightened beings to catalyze the change in attitude away from selfishness to a clear shared understanding of our Oneness. This is what I call The Sacred Journey from Me to We and it is a trip I sincerely believe we must complete if we are to have any hope of saving the human race in anything resembling its present form.