Every so often you read something that really gladdens your heart. Yesterday was one of those days when that happened. You see like, I suspect, the great majority, I see people as decent, honest and caring. Moreover, I think that those qualities should form the basis for the society we live in. Yet, I hear those in power preaching almost the opposite or, at least, acting as if that’s what they believe. In their view enough people are selfish, feckless, lazy or demonstrate sufficient other such negative qualities that they need to be the subject of punitive measures. However, what if most people aren’t selfish and greedy but actually unselfish, caring and honest? Where would that leave a political class that seems to believe the opposite? Well, probably with all its beliefs intact, unfortunately; which tells you more about them than anything else. So, you have to keep reminding yourself that less than 1 in 4 people actually voted for them. To put it another way, 76% didn’t.
So why the glad heart? Well, because some recently reported research reveals two important findings. Of a thousand people surveyed, 74% of them identified more strongly with unselfish values than selfish one. That would appear to support the contention that they are more interested in helpfulness, honesty and justice than in money, status and power. Furthermore that a similar proportion, 78%, believed others to be more selfish than they really are. In other words that we misjudge others to a negative degree. You may have noted the, possibly purely coincidental, similarity between the numbers who didn’t vote for the present government and those of us who hold such positive views of our fellow human beings.
In addition, a review in a recent psychology magazine makes the point that human behaviour towards unrelated members of our species is “spectacularly unusual” in the animal kingdom; that we are, in fact, ultra social. This “humanity” of humans will come as no surprise to most of us. It also appears that these positive traits emerge sufficiently early in our lives as to, likely, be innate. One last thing, the journal also revealed that three to five year olds were less likely to help a second time if they were rewarded for doing so the first time. In other words, extrinsic rewards appear to undermine the desire to help.
So, how do I explain the fact that those in power appear to almost all be in the other 22/26%? Well, almost by definition, many people who strive for and achieve dominance are likely to be more interested in power, status, fame and money than those who don’t. Yet they represent a tiny minority. Unfortunately, those they mix with in the upper reaches of the stratosphere are likely to have similar views to themselves and will, thus, only reinforce their own. What you have to keep remembering is that they’re not representative of the rest of us; but, then, you knew that anyway.
One last thought, how many people do you know personally who are greedy, selfish and uncaring? I thought not. Neither do I.