THE BLOG
05/29/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Even Wild Dogs Protect Their Packs

Remember the film John Q, in which Denzel Washington plays a father whose son is diagnosed with an enlarged heart, and discovers his HMO won't cover the cost of a transplant? In desperation, John Q eventually storms the hospital and takes hostages. His only demand is that his son be put on the transplant list.

Insurance companies now tell us they've found a loophole in the new health care law that allows them to deny coverage to children with preexisting conditions. Do we really need to hear the case they're making to know it doesn't make sense?

Even wild dogs protect the weakest members of their packs.

The most basic reason for guaranteeing universal health care is that we encourage a primitive, survival-based world when we fail to meet people's most basic needs.

People don't get seriously ill on purpose. There are all kinds of reasons they can't afford insurance. Just ask the millions of Americans who've worked diligently all their lives, only to lose their jobs -- and their health care coverage -- during the past year.

How far are we then from a world like the one described in the New York Times on Sunday, in which wealthy Haitians drink champagne and party in casinos, their chauffeur-driven cars parked across the street from a makeshift tent city whose earthquake-displaced inhabitants have no choice but to defecate in the street?

When we meet people's most basic needs, we not only give them dignity and greater security, but also the capacity to move beyond mere survival, and ultimately to be productive contributors themselves. That's true at all levels of the food chain.

For the past decade, my colleagues and I at The Energy Project have been making the case to companies that rather than trying to get more out of their employees, they need to invest more in meeting their core needs. We argue that doing so is in their self-interest. The more people are preoccupied with their unmet needs, the less energy and attention they have to invest in the work they're being paid to do.

When employers don't encourage us to renew intermittently during the day at work, it's inevitable that we'll get less and less productive as the day wears on. The research is clear that we operate best when we take a break every 90 minutes. If we're not valued and appreciated by our managers, it shouldn't be a surprise that our satisfaction and engagement diminishes. If the work we're doing is unmoored to any purpose beyond profit, it's unlikely we're going to feel deeply committed to our employers.

When companies take better care of their employees, they not only make them feel more secure, but also fuel and inspire them to take better care of the company's clients and customers, and of each other.

The same is true when it comes to taking care of those among us who are sickest and most vulnerable. By making that commitment, we rise beyond our most primitive instincts to embrace others. And we create a world in which we give them a chance not just to reclaim their health, but also to return to work.

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