The New Age of Helping
Yesterday I wrote a bit about how McDonalds is losing favor with the American public due in part to it's poor treatment of employees. But I believe that this is just one small piece in a new and growing trend in our society. It appears to me that in a large sense, Americans are beginning to care about one another. You may not believe me or see this yourself yet, but I think this is just the beginning.
Sometime around 2008 something really fundamental changed here in the United States. For the first time in many decades financial hardship hit Americans and it hit them hard. Almost nobody was immune from the effects of the financial crisis. People who had worked hard for their whole lives saw their retirement savings dry up, people watched their neighbors forced out of their homes through foreclosure and many who never thought they would have to worry realized that they suddenly did.
It Really Changed Us
As so many Americans felt the ground shift beneath their feet, they began to realize, whether consciously or not, that they were perhaps more fortunate than they had ever thought. Those whose lives were not destroyed by the crisis realized that perhaps it was not money that determined someone's social value. Instead of building walls of class stratification higher and higher to hide behind, Americans have just started looking over the walls.
Even as the economy has rebounded, news coverage still focuses on the less fortunate. Instead of ignoring the problems that plague poor Americans, we have begun to really look at them more critically. Restaurants such as Panera have experimented with "pay what you can" models and many other businesses have begun looking for ways to contribute more actively to society. At the same time, many states and even individual cities are pushing to raise the minimum wage so that more Americans can live with dignity.
At the same time, as was the case with McDonalds, Americans have begun to shy away from companies that treat workers unfairly. Fast food sales are dropping and customers are staying away from these stores in protest. Companies such as Walmart which are known for poor employee practices are also suffering in this country. Americans are demanding more equality and fairness.
The Sharing Economy
One other sign of this growing trend is the rise of the "sharing economy." Essentially this means that people are opening up their personal lives a bit more to strangers around them. There are many companies that provide examples of this. Airbnb, for example, allows people to rent out rooms in their homes for short periods of time for vacationers. Aside from homes, people are sharing cars, food, space and even clothing with one another.
Just the Beginning
This trend is only beginning to take root in America, but it has the potential to really shape the way that we exist in the world. We could end up becoming more like the socially inter-dependent countries of Northern Europe. But no matter what actually happens, we are in an exciting time where we have begun to think about some of the issues that matter the most.