First, it's been quite a while since my last post. A lot's been going on over the last months, and as a result, I prioritized other things over ~synthesis~, but I intend to amend that from now on! I thank all of you who sent me emails and were concerned about my well-being - that was surprising and sincerely appreciated - a thousand times thank you.
Second, I've decided to leave Microsoft - my employer of many years - and embark on a new journey in the world of education and start-ups. The next weeks and months will be spent refining the vision, finalizing the business plan, and of course, securing the funding to make it happen. I may do some consulting work in the interim, but hope to devote most of my energy to creating this new future with the goal of making a difference.
Community v ambition: I was visiting with a friend recently and we got to talking about her recent adventure in India, and then about some of the differences in the way people approach life (broadly speaking) in "developing" vs. "developed" worlds. Out of this came this idea that there are two extremes in how we approach life - community and ambition.
For most of our existence on this planet, community has been fundamental to survival. As competition grew and threats increased, people coalesced into communities where roles were defined, and they took care of each other. For example, in a true community, there are people who will hunt, grow, prepare food, build shelters, heal, and defend the community; more often than not, the children will inherit their parents' roles as they grow older. Similarly, you won't see daycare or convalescence or retirement homes - the young, the recovering and the aged are cared for within the community. The very idea of saving for retirement doesn't occur or exist.
The community can and does sustain itself with relatively lower stress - certain issues that individuals face simply don't arise; and others (will there be enough food today, what if bad weather damages our homes) are dealt with more easily because the burden is shared by the entire community, and there is comfort in that. People never go it alone. The community creates a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose, and a sense of beholdenness.
At the other end is ambition. It argues that the individual prevails over everything, that we each go it alone, and that success is self-created, and self-enjoyed. "Ambitious" parents expect their kids to leave the home after secondary school, go on to university (in another town) and then the working world, happily leaving them in the bliss of an "empty nest" - this concept simply doesn't exist in the community.
Ambition is also a zero-sum game - there are winners and losers in everything - and that's how "keep score" and gauge your progress. It's a bit weird that ambition requires us to prevail over fellow humans - a rather counter-to-Darwin strategy.
To and "outsider," community is an oddly stagnant thing - "don't they want/expect/desire more than the status quo?" I am an outsider (ambitious) - but I wonder where happiness lays, where less strain and stress, fulfillment lie, and whether individual outcomes are on an equal footing with community outcomes.
The recent election in the United States was largely a celebration of individual ambition over community impact. Most if not all of the issues in play asked why the one should pay for the many. Incumbents were vanquished because they supported legislation that required individuals to spend their money in support of others. While there is a party line, most members of the party only agree on one thing - that the other party must be stopped. Outside of that, their perspective is largely individual.
Most large corporations believe success comes by pitting individuals (their own employees) against each other (in a zero-sum performance management scheme) in an effort to achieve greater team performance. BUT because success comes comparatively, many of their own employees (presumably rigorously-selected and trained, etc.) must "fail" in order for some of their employees to succeed, and theoretically for the company to succeed. Hmmm... "For us to be a great company a proportion of our employees must be failures - we have therefore designed our system and set our expectations to achieve this."
Does that compute?
It is fair to argue that the community forsakes the individual - the "communistic" view requires each of us to sublimate our desire for the broader good; the innate artist must be a hunter; or the budding mathematician must be a seamstress because those are the things the community requires. They must forgo their uniqueness.
In my family - we often wonder at the fact that the only times we get together is for weddings and funerals, that as much as we say "we must do this more often," actions speak louder than words, and the next reunion is when someone else bites the dust.
Is there a happy medium where the individual is celebrated, and yet a vital and contributing, and nurtured member of the community? Or does the one implicitly pollute the other? Is individuality inherently a corruptive agent in the community? Is there a limit to the amount of corruption that a community can withstand before it evaporates? Does community suppress innovation? Does community perpetuate stagnation?
Over the last ~3 years, I've had the honor to be a part of an amazing community - those that are passionate and committed to improving education around the world. It is vibrant and passionate and energetic and able; but are we really a community or are we just ambitious individuals who share a common goal?
Is there a pendulum effect? Will Western society move back to a community base at some point? I was in Cape Town a couple of weeks ago, and saw community power first hand; but I fear that progress trumps stagnation, and while I appreciated what they have, inside me is the desire for it/them to be more...