I recently disembarked from a truly stunning Sky Princess cruise ship with about 2,600 passengers and 1,400 crew.
Before one of the singers and dancers performed in the main theater, the cruise manager mentioned that the crew came from 60 different nations and all got along well, working closely together, seven days a week, on six-month contracts. It is truly a tapestry of intertwined humanity, people of all races, colors, creeds and sexual preferences doing what they can to provide for their families in different countries.
This piece of information got me thinking: Why can’t the world be more like a cruise ship when it comes to peaceful and necessary human interaction?
Does this sound like too simple a question? In some respects this may be unrealistic, but in many other quite significant respects it is not at all.
It is not usually the industrious citizens of the nations of the world who preach hatred and war against the people of another nation; instead, it is their usually rich, legitimate and sometimes ruthless “leaders”.
Hard-working people are simply too busy trying to feed their children, keep a roof over their heads, and find moments of happiness. They don’t have much interest in hating or attacking people from other countries who are likely fighting a similar battle.
But their “leaders” (and sometimes their families), who live in bubbles of privilege and rarely suffer the consequences of the negative actions they inflict on others, are responsible for many of humanity’s ills. For example, the children of these “commanders” will almost never be forced to fight when they are at war against another country – they are the sons and daughters of those hard-working, often poor citizens.
As someone who grew up in poverty and was often homeless as a child, I have been fortunate enough to go on many cruises over the years. Each time I sit back in awe and watch the dedicated staff and supervisors, who sometimes also come from poor or poor backgrounds, interact with each other graciously despite their possible differences.
One of the reasons for this is that managers were once newly hired workers, perhaps seeking to escape difficult circumstances by returning home to take care of their loved ones. It may have taken them years to secure their promotion. They know the struggles, worries and fears their employees may be feeling. How many of the world’s political “leaders” can make the same claim about the millions of people they rule?
So why can’t the world be more like a cruise ship? Well, most of the world’s “leaders” have probably never experienced such a microcosm of humanity working and living as one to provide and receive happiness. But that “microcosm” is real. I’ve seen it coexist harmoniously 24/7/365 in cruise line fleets.
Knowing this, perhaps cruise lines should offer world leaders on-board symposiums where they are invited to the crew decks to observe the activities of representatives of 60 countries. While there, world leaders were able to learn a valuable lesson in empathy while sitting at the tables, doing the laundry, cleaning the cabins, and then relaxing in the crew lounge with those who had worked hard for years.
Of course, it’s hard to imagine President Biden sitting next to, say, French President Emmanuel Macron or German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Some world leaders are unlikely to attend, such as China’s Xi Jinping and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And some probably wouldn’t be invited—certainly not Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But the larger point is this: these leaders and others can benefit from getting their hands dirty and truly serving others while working with cruise ship crew.
Such experiences can remind our world leaders that we are all the same in the end. We are all on the “Good Ship Earth”, sailing around the solar system trying to survive peacefully.
Douglas MacKinnon, a policy and communications consultant, was the writer White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.