A note from our editor, Elizabeth MacBride:
My daughter dropped an 18-year-old profundity the other day. “The pandemic saved us,” she said. “It gave us a new perspective on what was important.”
I thought of how a friend asked me recently why I thought some people who are already un-imaginably wealthy, wealthy far beyond any ability to spend it, stay focused on growing their business empires.
Mostly, I think it’s because of the culture of gamification that took hold in the 1980s, after the end of the Cold War. People are social creatures who respond to the cultures and environments they’re born into. Lacking the existential threat and the sense of values of imparted by the wars of the mid-20th century, many of the best and most ambitious people looked to business and technology to make their mark on the world. Size and money became the clearest measures of success – and more troublingly, of what was important.
That culture seems to be coming to an end, closed by a pandemic, and then a war that hits close to home, and the return of the threat of nuclear war.
In his address to the U.S. Congress, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine reminded us. “Strong doesn’t mean big,” he said. “Strong is brave and ready to fight for the life of his citizens and citizens of the world; for human rights; for freedom; for the right to live decently; and the right to die when your time comes and not when it’s wanted by someone else. By your neighbor.”
He was pleading for more support from America’s political leadership. But I think the address will stand as a sea change in the shift to a more values-based world. There is danger in this moment.
Peace is a value; but it can be won at the cost of the kind of mistaken moral clarity that leads to war. Historians look at the war in Ukraine and see its seeds in the way the lines were drawn after World War II, when communism began its transformation into the “Evil Empire.”
A shift toward a more values-based world will have practical ramifications for businesses, which will now be called on to make even more complicated judgements about where and with whom they work.
And I don’t believe the next generation will measure what’s valuable in the same way as ours did. In try to save his country, Zelenskyy was also speaking to young people like my daughter, who are looking for more to believe in.