The Importance of Others

When I did the MAPP program, a little-known fact is that my Capstone (applied end-of-year project) was actually on positive parenting. I am personally fascinated by the moment when a couple becomes parents, and how two people make the transition to parenthood.

My own transition to parenthood was a surprisingly rough one. I was afflicted with a rare, but not dangerous, pregnancy-related disease, and my husband and I were living six time zones away from our families. We naively thought that it would be no problem raising a baby by ourselves, far away from our natural support network. Boy, were we wrong.

We did return “home” after a year, with baby in tow, and then promptly moved again. This time, only a few hours away from our extended family, but enough to make visits and child-care support difficult. Add in winter weather and aging grandparents, and you have a first-world difficult problem.

When I talk with expectant parents now, we inevitably talk about how life must have been better in some ways “back in the old days” – by which we mean pre-modern. When our ancestors sat huddled around the communal village fire, telling each other stories about great hunts. The women would have looked after a new mother, so that all she needed to do was care for her baby and herself. None of this “two days in the hospital and now you go back to your detached single-family dwelling”. None of this sending fatigued parents off on their own to look after a crying baby. Women would have been involved in birthing and child-rearing for years before they had their own. They would have been much better educated in the art of calming a fussy baby. And the community would have taken care of the new mother and her baby so that both could become healthy, well-fed and rested – without being stressed or resource-limited.

When I think about today’s “epidemic of depression”, I also wonder – are we losing our sense of community, and our sense of caring for others?

Sonja Lyubormirsky has said that the number one happiness intervention is to do something nice for someone else.

Chris Peterson famously said that “Other people matter”.

George Vaillant has indicated that the basis of positive psychology is “Love, full stop”.

While happiness is certainly one key to well-being, it turns out that people tend to experience more positive emotions when they are with other people, rather than alone. (In this case, teenagers. In this case, for older adults who report higher well-being with their friends.)

Another route to well-being is meaning – which is typically described as contributing to something that is larger than yourself. Meaning exists, therefore, with other people and in community.

And yet another route to well-being, according to Martin Seligman’s PERMA model, is positive relationships. He posits, as do many other researchers, that humans are “hard-wired” to exist in community. Indeed, it could well be the reason for our relatively large brains.

Is it possible, then, that our current epidemic of depression has come about as a partial result of how individualistic we have become? How we now wish to “know ourselves” before we know each other?

And if so, could we then overcome depression and other social ailments with a “revolution of empathy”? This is the intriguing question posted in this RSA (Animate) video. Spend 10 minutes – see what you think. And then share your comments below.

Does this give you new ideas for how you want to live your life and spend your time? What are you already doing that creates a community of empathy, and does it increase your well-being?




Lisa Sansom

Lisa Sansom has her MBA from the Rotman School of Management, and over two decades of experience in teaching and training. Her years of work in the organizational development field have included projects on change management, employee engagement, leadership development, team coaching and employer of choice strategies.

Reader Interactions


  1. Jeremy McCarthy says

    Great video and very timely in the aftermath of yesterday’s tragedy. I may post the link to the video on my blog this week as well. Regarding your comments on parenting, one practice that I have adopted from Hawai’i (where I used to live) is introducing all of my friends and neighbors to my kids as “Auntie” or “Uncle”. So my friend Joe becomes “Uncle Joe” to my kids and my neighbor Marisa is “Auntie Marisa.” This is a tiny gesture but I do think it builds that sense of community that we once had and let’s both your kids and your community know that your friends and neighbors are expected to play a role in the raising of the children.

    Also, the most impactful moment for me in the movie “Happy” was the woman who moved her family into a commune where families shared duties of housekeeping and child rearing. You only had to cook once a month (but when you did cook you had to cook for 20 families.) I do think we have lost some of these communal benefits in our individualistic society.

  2. Lisa Sansom (@LVSConsulting) says

    Thanks Jeremy – I remember loving that part of the HAPPY movie as well! And we recently had Chinese-origin friends come to visit and their daughter addressed me as “Auntie Lisa”. It’s a lovely tradition and I hadn’t heard of it before. Truly, we are all connected – and that’s a wonderful way to honour it.

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