Business Insights from Andrea Hill

Humanity is Not a Zero Sum Game

31 May 2021
When any part of humanity wins, we all win. And when any part of humanity loses, all of humanity loses. Volumes of social research indisputably support the conclusion that all of society does better when all of society does well.
photo by miko guziuk
photo by nathan dumlao

Humanity is not a zero sum game.

The scope and messiness of human inequality is so vast that most people don't even want to try to make sense of it or even contemplate it. The easiest thing to do is to focus on the people we know and the community we identify with, and try to be a good person within that narrow context.

But we can't sit issues out, only to become concerned when (if) they finally affect us or someone close to us. Many people don't care about Covid19 — until they or someone in their family becomes terribly sick from it. Most people don't muster the energy to care about about . . .  LGBTQIA, indigenous, Black, immigrant, Asian, women, differently-abled, Jewish, Palestinian, etc. etc. rights  . . . until they become personally close to someone who bears one of those labels.

Perhaps it would be less confusing if we stopped thinking about all these things as different issues, and started thinking about them as a human issue. But to do that, we have to be willing to cope with complexity.


Some people think if we critize police behavior, we hate police.
When really, we hate systems that produce, promote and protect BAD police (and we seriously disapprove of the bad police).

Some people think that if we say gay and trans people should have equal rights we're saying that gay and trans people should have special privileges.
When really, they should just be able to access all the same privileges straight people have, and shouldn't be subjected to discriminatory rules.

Some people think that if we say Black Lives Matter, we're saying Black lives matter more than White lives.
When really, we're saying that we should finally start acting as if Black lives matter too — that they matter as much as White lives.

Some people think that fighting for voting rights is somehow making their vote count less.
When really, we're only saying that all votes should count equally and that all votes should be equally easy to cast.

Some people think you can't be supportive of and concerned about Palestinians if you are also supportive of and concerned about Jews - or vice-versa.
When really, the geopolitical nightmare that is the Middle East shouldn't be used as an excuse to disregard the human rights of anyone.

Some people think that talking about gun reform is an excuse to take away their guns.
When really, we're very concerned about the rights of everyone else to not get shot.

Some people think that if abortion is legal, then every woman will run out and get an abortion whenever she feels like it (which no statistic has ever supported).
When really, most women consider an abortion the last thing in the world they would choose. But they should be respected enough to choose when it comes to the the most intimate details of their own bodies, economic security, and ability to live their lives.

Some people pick and choose which causes to support. There are those who are loud and proud about Stop Asian Hate, but silent about Black Lives Matter. There are some who are invested in Gay Rights, but don't care about Indigenous Rights.

How is it still possible that people have a hard time deciding which humans to care about?

I don't think people actually believe any of the excuses I offered above. They're just that. Excuses. Because within every tribe in our society there are people who only care about their own tribe. It's much easier to believe that my belief system or way to live is the right belief system and way to live, than to embrace the idea that different belief systems can be equally and simultaneously right

How the Rules of Belonging Hurt Humanity

Humanity isn't a zero sum game, which is the idea that in order for one person to win, another must lose. 

But we have a habit of acting like it is. We break everything down into winners and losers. We behave that way in everything; family money disputes, jobs, NIMBY initiatives, financial markets, civil wars, international wars, and now even global pandemics.

Instead, when any part of humanity wins, we all win. And when any part of humanity loses, all of humanity loses. Volumes of social research indisputably support the conclusion that all of society does better when all of society does well.

It all matters. We all matter. We all matter to each other. 

Even when we can't see it. Perhaps especially when we can't see it.


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