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Upswing: how America came together a century ago and how we can again provided an interesting perspective. It was unique because it looked at changes over a longer period of time than is typical, 125 years. Generally books examine changes and hypothesize why. This books longer time frame was interesting because the view was about multiple changes that occurred. He described the changes as the I-We-I inverted U curve.
He demonstrated, with abundant data, how the selfish, individualistic period of the early 20th century, the Gilded Age, evolved into a communitarian, altruistic mid 20th century stage, in the 50’s and 60’s, that then moved back toward an individualistic “me” stage. He explained how the mid century move toward “we” did not aim high enough because it did not include race and gender benefits. He also documented that by aiming low, nobody did as well as they could have. In other words, we did not seek to “Exceed Expectations” as we should have.
Overall he suggested that Tocqueville’s initial assessment of America in the early 1800’s that America was pursuing self-interest, rightly understood would be most beneficial. My understanding of self-interest rightly understood is that self-interest is best served when communitarian interests are also served well because it is not a zero sum trade-off or competition between communitarian equality and individual freedom.
Communitarian interests and individual freedoms are cumulative and additive because they can be mutually beneficial. Overall, this suggests benefits from #SelfishSelflessSynergistic actions. In other words, actions can provide individual benefits in ways that also serve others and are holistically beneficial. My understanding of Putnam’s recommendations are we should aim to generate actions that produce comprehensive benefits through the creation of pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefit.
In this new year it would seem wise to follow Robert Putnam’s recommendations to help everyone and everything benefit from another Upswing!

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