Communication and Cooperation: Lessons from Politics, Paleontology and Space Flight

With likely unintended irony, Science Alert posted on election day an essay by Nicholas R. Longrich, Senior Lecturer in Evolutionary Biology and Paleontology, University of Bath, concluding that “cooperative aggression evolved in the common ancestor of chimps and ourselves, 7 million years ago.” The conclusion is bolstered by research showing that humans and Neanderthals were likely at war for more than 100,000 years. In other words, as Longrich writes, “to war is human.”

The root of our tendency toward “cooperative aggression” is tribalism. That’s not a very encouraging thought when we wonder if our country can move from red states and blue states to “united states.” It seems such kumbaya thoughts don’t jive with human nature.

But lost amongst the election coverage was another story. Election eve, November 2, was the 20th anniversary of humans continuously inhabiting the International Space Station. For two decades, people of different nations, cultures and religions have lived cooperatively – minus aggression – “in a tin can far above the world.”

Yes, we’re quoting David Bowie’s Space Oddity. And while the song was released in 1969 – the same year as the lunar landing – “far above the moon, planet earth is blue” evokes one of the most impactful images in human history: the Christmas Eve, 1968, earthrise photographed from lunar orbit. For the first time, humanity saw our planet from an extraterrestrial perspective. We saw a planet without borders, looking very small against the void.

As Longrich posits, aggression may have been our genetic ancestors’ first cooperation. And language, then, may have risen from that cooperative aggression. But language also can lift us above our differences.

As communicators, we understand the power of words to unite or divide. We know that messages can be used to pull people toward us, or to push others further away. We understand that communication is most effective when we can find common ground and empathize with others. You don’t need to leave earth to achieve that for your brand, but your brand does need an authentic and engaging voice conveying messages that connect beyond a narrow tribe. That’s what we do.

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