There are times when one, out of the blue as it were, commits a really selfish act and then a friend, colleague, spouse, or relative says to you, 'really, you are so selfish.' Often then its like a huge wake-up call as the accusation of selfishness really stings and hurts. The result usually prompts the accused to do whatever is necessary to prove that he or she is not intrinsically 'wired' to think solely of himself/herself. In actual fact research suggests that very few people are naturally selfish. Us humans are instinctively pretty selfless creatures. Decisions made on impulse tend to err on the side of selflessness and collective social gain. For some reason its when we have time to think or mull things over that selfish decisions are made; the more we basically think about something the more self-serving we become, at least that generally seems to be the case. Different studies investigating human moral behaviour suggest that our default setting ( if one can use computer terminology.) is intuitively selfless, yet a possibly provocative suggestion in a time when selfishness abounds.
Nevertheless, the moral instinct is to act on behalf of the group rather then the individual self. To test this, two experiments were designed by some Harvard researchers interested in measuring intuitive decision making versus deliberate ones. How do the decisions we make on impulse moralistically vary from those we make after having time to contemplate? Does pressure to make snap decisions lead to more selfless or selfish acts? Participants who were asked to quickly answer whether they would contribute to the pool in a public goods game were more likely to report they would give more than those who were given time to contemplate their decision before making it. This seemed to prove the intrinsic generosity of most people. After all's said and done, we humans are really social animals 'hard-wired' to cooperate with each other for survival. Certainly cooperation suggests that people benefit more from helping each other out. Cooperation in the form of selflessness benefits individuals in terms of resisting short term temptation to act in a self serving manner and collaboration which offers long term benefits by creating bonds of both trust and reciprocity. If one examines the moral impulses of society it can be determined that selfishness on the whole is not the norm. However, a individual begins making increasingly self serving decisions as they develop if they are exposed to environments that encourage it, or are not encouraged to think on behalf of collective gain.
Take school children for example. Many are inclined to share before formal lessons on the benefit of sharing are taught, and its as they grow older that playtime more individualized as toys are thought of as property. Most people then are instinctively good in terms of the tendency to be cooperative and generous, and these traits can be fostered by our environment. It is nice to know that kindness is not only 'out there', but inside us. The following words of a very old poem illustrate beautifully the scourge of selfishness.
"Six men were trapped by happenstance in black and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood, or so the story's told.
The dying fire needed logs, the first man held his back because, of the faces
round the fire, he noticed one was black.
The next man, looking opposite, saw one not of his church and couldn't bring
himself to give the fire his stick of birch.
The third man sat in tattered clothes, he gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use to warm the idle rich?
The rich man sat and thought awhile of the wealth he had in store
and how to keep what he had earned from those lazy, shiftless poor.
The black mans face bespoke revenge as the fire passed from sight,
for all he could see in his stick of wood was a chance to spite the white.
And the last man of this forlorn group did nought except for gain
giving only to those who have was the way he played life's game.
Their logs held tight in death's still hands was proof of human sin.
They didn't die from the cold without, they died from the cold within.
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