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Why Well-Being for Each of Us is Well-Being for All of Us

By Risa Wilkerson on April 13th, 2017

In an atmosphere of protecting our “benefits,” we act in ways that are self-serving on the surface, yet don’t result in the long-term benefits that we think they do. Consider any playground or school yard where you’ve seen children struggle to share a toy. The energy they exert to prove the toy is “theirs”—and the resulting bitterness they feel—prevents them from developing friendships and experiencing the joy of building imaginary worlds together.

Beyond the playground, this attitude shows up in adults with comments like, “There are only so many resources available.” Or, “We have to invest where there is already capacity.” Or when we advocate for improvements only in our neighborhood. This kind of thinking results in deeply imbalanced investments. In a new report, The Cost of Segregation, the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Urban Institute note,

“Disinvestment has devastated entire city neighborhoods and suburban villages, towns and cities. Lack of diversity also hurts affluent communities, where limited housing options often mean that young people cannot afford to return when starting their own families, retirees cannot afford to stay and valued employees are priced out. Add it up, and it’s clear that segregation holds back [an] entire region’s economy and potential—and whether we realize it or not, it’s costing all of us.”

For other examples, consider policies that continue systemic oppression and unjust inequities. North Carolina’s recent “repeal” of HB2 still bans local authorities from protecting their citizens from discrimination. At the federal level, the President’s proposed budget would cut a partnership that aims to improve job creation, access to water and the internet, and the preservation of rural history and culture. There are also proposed cuts to public transportation infrastructure.

We have to, instead, start thinking in terms of abundance and improving the health of all communities in order for well-being to improve for everyone. Here are a few examples.

  • When more trips are made by walking, biking, and efficient public transportation, we all experience less traffic congestion, noise pollution, and cleaner air.
  • Ensuring that all people have access to healthy, affordable food creates economic opportunities for farmers and entrepreneurs. The improvement in overall well-being also saves lives and money.
  • When more people have health care coverage with access to quality primary and preventive care, emergency rooms are less crowded and are more effective in true emergencies.
  • When more people have better health care, they are healthier, more productive, and innovative. That turns into better solutions to society’s challenges.
  • When neighborhoods are designed to prevent crime, entire communities are safer. Neighbors are more connected. Families are more active and are far less stressed. That’s good for everyone’s mental health and well-being.
  • When children have early, ongoing, and high-quality education and are given a healthy start in life, teachers can expand young minds rather than spend time handling crises. The result is that every child in that school benefits, and ultimately, the communities those children grow into.
  • When people earn a living wage and can afford safe and reliable housing, they can spend time on other interests, like volunteering or growing a hobby into a business. This also spurs the local economy.

There are encouraging signs that abundance thinking is taking hold. For example, a new poll shows that 70 percent of small-business owners support a national paid family and medical leave insurance program. More than 73 percent of Americans support using tax dollars to create, expand and improve public transportation in their communities. Furthermore, Governor’s from 20 states (red and blue) and leaders from more than 600 U.S. companies support investing in clean energy, recognizing (among other benefits) that wind and solar energy resources are “transforming low-income rural areas in ways not seen since the passage of the Homestead Act over 150 years ago.”

The world is full of complex problems. Only looking out for what’s “ours” holds all of us back from reaching our full potential as individuals, communities, and a society. We must embrace equity to find effective solutions. It’s clear, we all do better when we all do better.

Risa Wilkerson

Executive Director

Action-driven optimist, abundance thinker, and simplicity seeker.