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A question for 2023: Why can't the world be more like a cruise ship?

I recently got off the truly stunning Sky Princess cruise ship, which carried about 2,600 passengers and a crew of 1,400. 

Prior to one of the performances by the singers and dancers in the main theater, the cruise director mentioned that the crew came from 60 different nations and all get along wonderfully while working in close contact, seven days a week, during six-month contracts. It’s truly a tapestry of interwoven humanity — people of all races, colors, faiths and sexual preferences doing all they can to provide for their families back home in their various countries.

From that bit of information, I wondered: Why can’t the world be more like a cruise ship, when it comes to peaceful and necessary human interactions?

Does that sound like too simple a question? In some ways, perhaps it is unrealistic, but in a number of other quite substantial ways, it’s not at all.

Usually, it is not the hard-working citizens of nations the world over who are declaring hate and war on people of another nation; instead it’s their typically wealthy, entitled and sometimes feckless “leaders.”

The hard-working folks are simply too busy trying to feed their children, keep a roof over their heads, and find moments of happiness. They’re not really interested in hating or attacking people from other countries, who most likely are struggling similarly.

But their “leaders” (and sometimes their families) who live in bubbles of privilege and rarely suffer the consequences of the negative actions they foist upon others are the ones responsible for many of the ills plaguing humanity. For example, it will almost never be the children of these “leaders” who are forced into combat when they wage war on another country — it’s 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 to have taken many cruises over the years. Each time, I sit back in awe while observing the dedicated staff and supervisors — who sometimes come from poor or disenfranchised backgrounds, too — as they interact graciously with one another, despite any differences they may have.  

One reason why that is so is that the supervisors once were newly hired staff, perhaps seeking to escape tough circumstances back home and trying to provide for their loved ones. It may have taken them years to secure their promotions. They know the struggles, worries and fears their staff may feel. How many of the world’s political “leaders” can make the same claim with regard to the millions of people they govern? 

So, why can’t the world be more like a cruise ship? Well, most world “leaders” likely never have experienced such a microcosm of humanity working and living as one to provide — and receive — happiness. But that “microcosm” is real. I’ve seen that it exists harmoniously, 24/7/365, within the fleets of cruise lines.   

Knowing that, maybe the cruise lines should offer to host world leaders for onboard symposiums, in which they are invited down to the crew decks to watch the representatives of 60 nations in action. While there, the world leaders could learn a valuable lesson in empathy by bussing tables, doing laundry, cleaning cabins, and then unwinding in the crew lounge with those who have worked that hard for years. 

Sure, it’s hard to imagine President Biden bussing tables alongside, say, French President Emmanuel Macron or German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Some world leaders likely wouldn’t attend, such as China’s Xi Jinping and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And some probably wouldn’t be invited — surely not Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But the broader point stands: These leaders and others could benefit from getting their hands dirty and truly serving others while working with the crew of a cruise ship.

Such an experience just might remind our world leaders that, ultimately, we are all the same.  We’re all on the “Good Ship Earth,” sailing the solar system, trying to survive in peace.

Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.

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