"Among the first lessons we learn as children is to play nicely and share. To be included, we must learn to cooperate. Then, in time, the lesson shifts to “the one with the most toys wins. Inclusion means acting and thinking in your own self-interest. For many, our lives become ruled by this latter lesson.
Two articles underscore this tenet. Eric Michael Johnson, from the University of British Columbia, maintains that humans are essentially coded to be compassionate and cooperative. Our ancestors only thrived when they worked together to hunt big game and gather food to sustain themselves. Those who acted selfishly were shunned. For millennia, these cooperative practices were upheld. But with the onset of industrialization, we have witnessed and participated in what Johnson calls “a society of vicious competition and inequality.”
Poka Laenui, a Native Hawaiian elder, activist and writer, describes modern society through the acronym – DIE (Domination, Individualism, Exclusion). “DIE,” says Poka, “pervades leisure, work, politics, and families, permeating everything we do. We assume our patterns are normal and defend them as natural.”
So how might we confront this modern misstep? Both men agree that we need to journey back to the source. Johnson refers to Darwin’s “The Descent of Man,” often used to justify survival-of-the-fittest antics as though they were natural and almost fated. Johnson claims that Darwin’s findings pointed to the contrary. “Those communities,” Darwin wrote, “which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best…” Therefore, evolution has less to do with survival-of-the-fittest and far more to do with survival-of-the-nicest.
Poka Laenui went back to the sources of his Native Hawaiian roots and calls it OLA ( which means life and health in Hawaiian). OLA stands for ‘Olu’olu (harmonious, non-dominating), Lokahi (seeing things holistically), and Aloha (caring, love). Poka writes:
The very deep culture of DIE must be replaced with OLA (however one chooses to express it). In a culture of inclusion, loving, caring and sharing… school tests would be taken by groups helping one another to get to the correct answers, rather than separating children and ranking one higher or smarter than the other after the tests.
If you were to look at your home, community, or workplace, which culture predominates – DIE or OLA? How does the culture you experience reflect your mission and values? What would it take to move toward a deep cultural shift?
Our work at Elemental Partners aims to practice an OLA-based culture through our organizational values, which include Lokahi. Our most challenging work helps to transform clients who espouse a DIE-based culture. While we stay up late wondering why we agreed to work with these clients, we also discover that they reconnect us why our work matters.
One of these clients said she chose to work with us because “You folks are a model of what we want to create here – trust, respect and the fact that you’re all so genuinely nice to each other.” Perhaps it’s time for us all go to the source and heed our earliest lessons: the secret of growth and prosperity lies in the survival of the nicest.