I write this post from 24,000 ft. in the air, headed from one destination to another. Most places in the world aren’t destinations, though, just places we pass by in order to get somewhere else. In recent years the term “flyover country” has gained traction as a way to explain these non-destinations. This language, interestingly enough, has made it into American political discourse as a way of describing the large swaths of the country where people feel forgotten and abandoned by our political system and the “elites” who look down their noses at them as they fly overhead.
There isn’t one factor to blame for the development of these circumstances, but a major one is certainly the way commerce and capitalism have evolved in our society. Economic inequality is on the rise, with the loss of jobs and stagnating wages affecting flyover country the most. And much of this is traceable to how much focus has been placed on competition and our prioritization of the bottom line above all else. It’s through these that we’ve developed a business culture that naturally operates on self-interest, often to the detriment of the interests of others. As a result, you get the outsourcing of jobs to other countries, you get a workforce with shrinking wages while executives have ballooning bank accounts, you get businesses that will do anything they can (including purchasing politicians) to make sure they pay effectively nothing in taxes while the average citizen often pays more than they can afford. If you’re on the short end of this stick, it’s no wonder that the term “flyover country” carries a certain alacrity.
Our societal wounds are many, and there is no simple fix for any of them. But I think a good place to start is for those of us involved in the business world to consider our role in the larger picture and how the status quo may have a negative effect on the whole. We’re living in a time when it is no longer sustainable for business to be a solely self-interested enterprise that uses Survival of the Fittest as its OS. Companies are run by humans, for humans. We are more than animals, we are more than machines. We are the most social and communal species that has ever lived on earth, and the inequality we see resulting from our willingness to take advantage of each other reflects a betrayal of that. It’s time that we engineer our commercial enterprises to align with our humanity. And if we’re smart, we can still have a strong bottom line while simultaneously taking care of each other and mending our collective wounds in the process.