The term ‘survival of the fittest’ is forever associated with the English naturalist and writer, Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Many interpret the phrase to mean that the strongest and healthiest survive while the weaker and more sickly die quicker. While this may be true of individuals, it is not what Darwin was interested in, which was survival of the whole species. His point was that those species that are best fitted to the environment at the time will survive, while species that do not fit well to the environment will perish. The real winners, in the species game, were those that could change when the environment changed.
Many people believe that the current world order is undergoing a fundamental transition, where trust in institutions of state, religion, work organisation and the financial system are being eroded at a fast pace. The primary mode of control – rules based approaches – is no longer relevant as the complexities of our globally-connected world makes it unsuitable and out-dated. The laws of the land, any land, have been unable to keep pace with technology which spans the globe day and night.
In my own profession – human resource management – it has become very obvious that the primary concern in any situation is a consideration of the legal risk. We have become, as a profession, a type of para-legal and this is to its detriment. Yet we now have so much new knowledge from neuroscience about how humans think and act, that perhaps the profession will soon start to emphasise the human in human resource management.
A runaway technology and a reliance on an obsolete rules-based system do not serve us well. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) even noticed this problem years ago when he commented “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”
So, what to do ?
Firstly, we must always keep learning. The story of Ingeborg Rapoport (1912-2017), who passed away in March this year, is a wonderful example of what this means. She had studied in Hamburg University but was denied a degree under the Nazi regime as her mother had Jewish ancestry. She emigrated to the United States where she completed her studies to be a doctor and later returned to live and work in what was then East Germany. The Faculty of Medicine in Hamburg University, however, invited her to present a thesis in order to undo the wrong that had been done. At the age of 102 she was awarded a doctorate for her thesis on diphtheria including new advances in research.
Secondly, trust must become the new currency. Trust has a value and it can go up or down like any asset. It can be measured, and as we know if something is measured and reported upon, it will attract attention. Bhutan is a small, landlocked country in Asia, bordered by China and India. It was the first country to begin measuring Gross National Happiness and this has become a key political and economic focus for them. There is no reason, other than political will, why GNH cannot replace GNP in world thinking. To build trust we need authentic leadership, from all sides and not just from the front.
Thirdly, we must move away from a rules-based system to a principle-based system. As the writer, Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) put it: “If you learn only methods, you’ll be tied to your methods, but if you learn principles you can devise your own methods”. It means having to think, but that is what will now be needed.
New ideas, like mediation, fit perfectly to a learning-based, trust-building, principle led vision of the future. Perhaps this is why mediation is not fully accepted yet – because of the gap between the current environment and what this future vision offers?
When this vision becomes reality mediation will truly be of the moment. In the meantime, those who use mediation and those who practice it will be helping to create a more human-based future.