“The Chimp Empire”, the Netflix documentary, tells a great story of two chimp groups in conflict in the jungle of Uganda. The conflict doesn’t look that much different from what I see in the human world, as featured in any news media day to day. This isn’t surprising, given that chimpanzees and humans share 98% of DNA. In a way, “The Chimp Empire” shows how humans behave in the wild, without clothes and fancy technologies.
However, there was one scene that has struck me so hard, and made me realize why we were able to survive in spite of all kinds of conflicts we caused against each other. One of the chimp groups’ leader, Jackson, was dying from the severe injury he got in one of the big fights against the other group. He laid himself down in a secluded area, away from his clan, in his final moments. Soon, Peterson, another alpha male, came and sat nearby. He reached out and held Jackson’s hand. Jackson didn’t die alone.
The Survival of the Fittest vs. The Survival of the Kindest
The conflicts of these chimps against each other over resources in the jungle automatically reminds us of the concept of the survival of the fittest. However, the survival of the fittest was not Darwin’s idea, but Herbert Spencer’s and that of Social Darwinists who used Darwin to justify their wished-for superiority of different classes and races.
What Darwin actually mentioned in his book, The Descent of Man, was closer to “the survival of the kindest”. His reasoning that in our hominid predecessors, communities of more sympathetic individuals were more successful in raising healthier offspring to the age of viability and reproduction.
“In however complex a manner this feeling may have originated, as it is one of high importance to all those animals which aid and defend one another, it will have been increased through natural selection; for those communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”
- <The Descent of Man> by Charles Darwin
Are We Truly Taking Care of Each Other at Workplaces?
With the recent economic downturn, as many companies cut their budget and laid off many people, one of the areas that got extremely downsized was around Employee Resource Group (ERG) or any sort of internal communities inside companies. In my experience at Meta, Apple, or Microsoft, it was these internal communities that worked as an invisible glue that connected me deeply to my workplace and created more meaningful relationship with others at work.
This isn’t just a feel-good thing; the more we feel connected to our fellow coworkers through these internal communities, the stronger the emotional connection is to our work. This leads to improved sense of wellbeing of employees/teams, better engagement and deeper commitment at workplaces in general. Therefore, it’s strategically important to support the internal communities at work.
In the name of efficiency, competition, and impact, companies often forget the fact that we’re all mammals. Sure — mammals often compete over resources like in the Chimp Empire, but we were doomed already, if there were fights and competitions only. We were able to survive because we could show care for each other in critical moments, like Peterson’s handholding for for Jackson. It’s critical to identify if there are such “handholding” functions at workplaces that are not outsourced to some 3rd party services and value & sustain them. The sense of wellbeing through this goes a long way for the mental health of employees to the bottomline of the business.
What are your “handholding” experiences at your workplace?
Are you acknowledging “Petersons” at your workplace?
These are critical questions for the survival of workplaces.