As another American election appears on the horizon, it’s difficult to see where we are heading.
The country has never been more divided. We have a pandemic eating away different states at an alarming rate. Racial unrest is bubbling up after months of being pressure-cooked inside a lockdown – all of this amidst a backdrop of unemployment and a tanking economy.
If history repeats itself, what will 2020 bring for the future? Is there anything we can do to change course?
I have spent the last 15 years researching Danish education, and one of the biggest eye-opening lessons I have learned has been the importance of teaching empathy. Empathy is taught in Danish schools from the time children are very small up to the age of 16.
It’s of huge value to Danish parenting and society, and it’s no surprise to learn that Denmark is regularly voted as one of the most empathetic countries in the world, along with being one of the happiest.
It is very normal for Danish teachers and parents to repeatedly say to children: “Remember, we have to take care of each other.” This is a value, and a responsibility, and it is strongly emphasised from early on. This is clearly reflected in the way society takes care of its people. Empathic children grow up to be empathic adults, and the system mirrors this.
The ‘I’s have it
In America, we are implicitly taught to take care of ourselves. This isn’t out of any bad intentions. It’s just because the stone-cold truth is: if we don’t take care of ourselves, no-one else will.
We don’t have the same kind of security net that other countries expect from their taxes. There is no free healthcare or affordable education or reasonable parental leave.
Most Americans can’t even fathom the idea of their health or education being a right. These needs, which are the keystones for true equality and a healthier society, are a tremendous stress and an unobtainable financial burden for many.
Open your eyes
A lot of people believe that the US is a meritocracy, but this just isn’t true anymore. The divide between the rich and the poor has reached outrageous proportions – the wealth divide between white and black families nearly tripled between 1984 and 2009. The rich keep getting richer, and our empathy levels keep getting poorer.
If you look behind any morally questionable system that hurts or divides the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ – such as private healthcare, elite education, the prison business or fast food lobbies – you will find wealthy corporations pulling the strings.
If there is any lesson to be learned this year it is that humanity – rich or poor, every colour and gender – has to be worth more.
We have to create a fairer, more equal playing field for everyone. They say that when you replace the ‘I’ with ‘we’, even illness becomes wellness.
Amidst the chaos, we have an opportunity this year. Let’s not look back and say hindsight is 2020. Let’s open our eyes now and see with 20/20 vision instead.