The growing need to shift from ‘me’ to ‘we’ – and how our response to a new age of work can reinvigorate civic life
Work and Learning

The growing need to shift from ‘me’ to ‘we’ – and how our response to a new age of work can reinvigorate civic life

Delivery guy, stock photo

See more on the work of the future—and how people can find and keep good jobs in an age of smart machines and artificial intelligence—in the new Jamie Merisotis book “Human Work in the Age of Smart Machines.”

Political and cultural divides are sharply defined right now, and they’re reinforced constantly—often corrosively—by our social media feeds. It’s a troubling time, one that makes many of us wonder if we’ll ever again be able to honestly use the language of America’s birth: One nation. Indivisible. E pluribus unum.

Well, I say those words still apply. As a nation, we’ve acted on them countless times over the decades. We’ve united in common purpose to overcome dire threats: economic depression, foreign invasion, prolonged war, terrorism, natural disasters – and yes, deep social and cultural differences.

Throughout our history, we’ve triumphed over such threats because we’ve found a way to face them together. It’s time to do that again. We must rediscover our commonality, our sense of shared progress as Americans.

Robert Putnam, best-selling author of “Bowling Alone,” has a new book coming out in mid-October that offers some hope in that effort. Titled “The Upswing,” the book chronicles the many times that America has shifted from what Putnam calls “an individualistic, ‘I’ society to a more communitarian ‘We’ society.”

Let’s fully and formally incorporate the idea of service into our work lives.

He says we can do this again—and I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, one of the things I suggest in my new book, Human Work in the Age of Smart Machines, can help us make huge strides toward the “We” society that we so desperately need.

Work can’t just be about making a living; it must help each of us make a life.

The suggestion: Let’s fully and formally incorporate the idea of service into our work lives. Periodic community service projects and volunteer days aren’t enough. Jobs and careers—and the education and training programs that prepare us for them—must be designed with service incorporated as a critical component, not an add-on. In short, work can’t just be about making a living; it must help each of us make a life. It must reinforce the dignity of work and help us find meaning.

Just as the world of work is adapting to rapid advancements in technology, our very definition of work must change. This new definition for human work must combine three elements: learning, earning, and serving others. Developing one’s abilities throughout life, applying those abilities to earn a living, and improving the lives of others – that’s the three-part formula for each of us.

And what works for each of us, will surely strengthen all of us. It will help us get back to “we.”


Jamie Merisotis is president and CEO of Lumina Foundation and author of the forthcoming book “Human Work in the Age of Smart Machines,” which will be released Oct. 6.

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