The future belongs to those who can combine the strength of community with the openness of globalization.
Scandinavia is an amazing place. You would think its high taxes would discourage entrepreneurship, yet it produces some of the most innovative companies in the world.
Every time I visit Denmark Iâ€™m struck by the cooperative and collaborative nature of its people. They are constantly sharing ideas, constantly trying to learn new and better ways of doing things.
I come from Ireland, a country which has been going through a massive transformation both socially and economically. Many people worry today that Ireland is losing its sense of community.
Community is a very powerful force. It gives people identity, roots, comfort, a sense of place. Community is about the common good, about the family, about rising above individual needs and thinking of the needs of others. Many people believe that globalization is the enemy of community.
Community has its dark side however. When the sense of community in Ireland was at its strongest, Ireland was at its most conservative, repressive and economically deprived. Community can encourage suspicion and even hatred of the stranger. Community can encourage conformity and discourage innovation. Community likes tradition and resists change.
Community can be closed to the outside. The thing that impresses me most about Scandinavia is that it is open to community and open to the world. It has got the balance right. This is a vital balance.
Gaelic football is Irelandâ€™s national sport, and Mick Oâ€™Connell is perhaps its best known proponent. He started his career in the late 1950s. After his first big match there were two men chatting in a pub. One said to the other that Oâ€™Connell had played well. The other grudgingly replied: â€œWhy wouldnâ€™t he? Doesnâ€™t he train!â€
This man exhibited one of the very worst characteristics of community: rigidified tradition. Either you had the skill or you hadnâ€™t. To trainâ€”to improve yourselfâ€”was rising above your fate.
Tradition is wonderful. It is a source of strength and comfort. But it can strangle innovation and hold the future back. It doesnâ€™t have to be that way. As Ireland modernized, tradition became a source of ideas. The traditional Irish pub and Riverdance became global success stories.
When Ireland gained independence in the 1920s it sought to become totally self-sufficient. It embraced everything traditional and shunned all things foreign. This was an utterly disastrous strategy that impoverished the country in every way.
When Ireland joined the European Union in 1973, things began to change. The more Ireland opened upâ€”the more it embraced globalizationâ€”the more prosperous the country became.
To trade we must trust. Primitive societies will only trust members of their own community. Sophisticated societies will trust the stranger as well. Success today is about keeping one foot in our communities and one foot in the globalized world.
We need to break away from the primitive idea that for a community to thrive it needs something to hate. We can love our communities and respect the stranger. Itâ€™s not a contradiction. We can embrace tradition and innovation. We can share and collaborate. In the global network of the Internet, these are things that will make us stronger and more prosperous.