15/06/2011

Is Cooperation Difficult? The Example of Lebanon

Lebanon has finally gotten a government.  After over 5 months of negotiations, the different parties and factions have reached agreement on the formation of a new cabinet. As one of the last people to meet with the outgoing Foreign Minister, I was impressed at how difficult it was in Lebanon, as it has been in Belgium, Nepal and other countries, to reach a common accord. It is to Lebanon's credit that there was no outbreak of violence, as there had been previously. There are numerous military in the streets, but none of what we see in Damascus, 3 hours by car. Even in Switzerland, where consensus is deeply embedded in the national psyche, tensions between the political parties seem more and more evident; working for the common good has taken a back seat to factional posturing.

When I was a young student in the United States, there were two parts to our report cards. The left hand side of our grades involved academic subjects such as reading and math. The right side, on the contrary, dealt with social behavior. The most important column was "works and plays well with others". As I watch my children and grandchildren go to school, it is evident that those criteria had fallen by the wayside. Grades are individual, social skills are less important. Being successful in school requires excellent individual work; collective activities are less in evidence just as job interviews are carried out individually. Bosses rarely look for those who are catalysts for collective success; a winner is a winner separate from a team player. However, the recent victory of the Dallas Mavericks over the Miami Heat in the basketball championships in the US shows how dedicated teamwork can overcome star players.

Technology has perhaps also played a role here. Sitting behind our computers, listening to music through our earphones, we are more and more cut off from the other. We live in our own worlds.

Joseph Nye and Robert Keohane wrote about how our world has become interlinked through complex interdependence. Internet has brought us closer together as have advances in transportation. But, ironically, these changes have not led to increased cooperation. Au contraire. I keep thinking about my early report cards, and how we should give more attention to social skills, to "works and plays well with others". The ability to cooperate, to negotiate is perhaps the foundation of any civilization, yet it is very rarely part of an educational curriculum or valorized in the workplace.

June 15, 2011

 

 

 

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