To the degree that dreams of personal success, more recognition, more money, more power and more freedom, become the driver of people’s actions, community considerations become less important. For many of us, community life in villages and suburbs has become a vague memory of yester-year. Those get-togethers at townhalls, schools and churches were characterised by warm feelings of belonging and a general sense of goodwill, children running around playing with freedom and lots of laughter. Already, more than half the word’s population live in cities and the trend will continue. As a consequence, community life as we knew it, is on the decline.

The lessons for the ambitious individual is to stand on his own feet, fight his own battles, be hard, and take from every opportunity to better his situation as much and best as he can. What he sees before him is a sea of anonymous people who are driven by the same individualistic aspirations of success and recognition. It does not take too long before disengagement, lack of trust and feelings of vulnerability and abuse become common experiences. While it is all-important to hold a front of success and independence, behind the façade people are often hurting and feeling desperately lonely.

Of course, the change from traditional living to modern living, from life with feudal arrangements to life arranged by industry, specialisation and institutions, was advantageous in many aspects. For the human spirit to soar, new opportunities to learn and grow are essential. Life in a small, closed community, can be oppressive and petty. Such communities are seldom challenging enough to bring the best out of people, individually or collectively, and in truth can be very harmful to a person’s well-being. Modernity and city-life offers emancipation and the promise of progress. It is also clear for everyone to see that along with modernisation progress were made in securing justice and human rights. However, at another level, the depth of morally-driven commitment, order and discipline, more typical in strong communities with shared frameworks of beliefs, is found wanting in modern societies.

Over years, society-as-market and society-as-state have replaced society-as-community (Larry Rasmussen). If the lens we look through is predominantly an economic one, then relationships become transactional in nature. In other words, the interest in another person is limited to the economic value he has. There is no deeper bond with a shared vision of moral and meaningful life. Public life and the sense of the collective good makes way for personal achievement, measured in economic terms. This, inevitably, impacts negatively on the quality of relationships in general. If people are only interested in how others can open doors to new opportunities for business or the advancement of their careers, then it is obvious that the sense of community and spiritual meaning in relationships will be virtually non-existent. Meeting and conversing with others are no longer opportunities to broaden perspectives and gain deeper insight. It is only instrumental to selfish goals. In Max Weber’s words, what you see is ‘economic compulsion detached from the highest spiritual and cultural values.’

We will not and don’t want to return to life as it was before the industrialised and following eras, but should we not aspire for a more holistic and healthy state in our relationships as a global community? Is it not a 21st century opportunity, and indeed an imperative, for leaders in all kinds of work organisations to prioritise relationships and community building in their organisations?