A while ago, a friend and I were watching Bill Weir’s television series, “The Wonder List,” a show which explores locations and cultures around the world.
During an episode shot in Iceland we learned that commitment in relationships is big there, but the institution of marriage is not. Iceland also happens to be one of the countries with the best social programs, most thriving economies, and highest rates of citizen satisfaction in the world.
I asked my friend, “Why do you think people get married so much more in America?” After all, Iceland’s residents seemed to have no trouble supporting themselves financially or having healthy relationships without it.
After a moment’s thought, she replied, “Because in America, you need to chain someone to your side just to get through it.”
And she was right. While many people in both Iceland and the U.S. are happily married for love, the underlying truth remains that the American economy is such that for many, a survivalist mentality seems the only option. Looking into living costs in major cities, I have been shocked by the apparent impossibility of having a tiny apartment with an entry-level corporate job. The realities are even starker for the working class.
Recently, I met a couple in their thirties living in a small apartment in Boston. The man was a researcher, the woman a nurse. When I asked how they were able to afford their space, they looked meaningfully at each other and replied, “Two incomes.”
America is the land of the free—a land of liberty, possibility, and innovation. For all these blessings, including capitalism, I am deeply grateful. But there have been times in America’s short history when the basic values of capitalism—providing a service to fill a need, and profiting from that innovation—have been gobbled up by the bald, desperate survivalism I speak of. Take the stock market crash of 2008.
Banks, in what one can only call a complete divorce from any sense of integrity or social purpose, sold bad mortgages to people who wanted homes, and then disingenuously packaged those mortgages as securities that unwitting investors bought into. Their you snooze, you lose mentality created a recession the likes of which threatened to topple the world economy.
The stereotype of the rich, paradoxically depressed person on meds exists for a reason—there is nothing fulfilling about ripping people off. My point here is not about charity or humanitarianism. I’m talking about the soul’s need to be a useful player in the universe—and the world’s need for us to do so.
Exhibit A: Jessica Alba. With a net worth of $197 million, ($33 million of which she has earned through The Honest Company , her business that makes chemical-free products for babies and children) she is currently the most successful businesswoman in America. What has made her so successful? Among other things, Alba’s business is what entrepreneur and motivational speaker Danielle LaPorte calls a “heart-based business.”
She set out to meet a human need, starting with her own authentic hopes for her children. This desire blossomed into a business that I can only assume profits her both spiritually and materially, for it was her own unique worldview that brought her products to life. And this authenticity of intention boomerangs back into the world, benefiting the buyers of her products both materially and spiritually as well.
I’m not saying that individuals aiming to thrive rather than survive will change the economy (as if), but I do believe it will make us happier. I believe a greater spiritual and social consciousness in business—a “thrivalism,” if you will—is an undertaking we should embrace as a country, together.
The fact is, we all collaborate to create the world we exist in. The way it is is actually just what we’ve collectively created—what we’ve settled for. Not only are we so done with survivalism, evolution-wise—with our highly developed intellect and communication skills, diplomacy and cooperation are to today what warfare was to our cavemen ancestors—but frankly, we can’t afford it.
Our planet is on the brink of a climate disaster. The global network has created a strange paradox: more connection and collaboration among people of different backgrounds, and yet also more opposition (Trumpism, terrorism) to that very principle. Immigrants to America often say that our country is one of isolation. Yes, our country can be great at creating that illusion.
But however we may feel, the fact remains that we are all, physically, here together—so why continue to stay trapped in our self-imposed prisons? We simply can’t afford to believe that each of us is going it alone for the sake of our bank accounts. If changes in conservation and world safety don’t progress, there will come a time very soon when our material gains, our personal accolades and seeming “safety” and “security” will ring hollow.
I started this article talking about marriage in Iceland. Now I’m ending it with a call to shift the way we value ourselves, each other, our relationship with the Earth and our time on it. Where did I get off course? Well, nowhere, really. Human connection is at the heart of our personal lives, and it’s also the glue that can bind our collective existence together again when all seems to be falling apart. We don’t have to wait for a national tragedy to see the light and come together in love. Our catalyst can be the realization that we only have this Earth, this life.
Author: Joelle Nanula
Image: Image: ビッグアップジャパン/Flickr
Apprentice Editor: Molly Murphy; Editor: Travis May