So you can read my books

Friday, May 23, 2014


Despite what "smart" money would bet on, 
evolution does not reward selfish people.  

Cooperative behavior is the key to the survival for many forms of life, from single-cell organisms to people

 Language used in modern books reveals how society has become more materialistic and selfish in the past 200 years, according to a new study.

Researchers found an increase in the use of words like “choose” and “get” in the past two centuries while words like “obliged” and “give” decreased. 

There was also an indication that people in modern society are more in touch with their emotions than they once were –

the use of “feel” increased while “act” decreased. 

The psychologists behind the study claim the shifts in language indicate how US and British society has grown more selfish as it has grown wealthier and more urban. 

What do you make of all this?

A study based on 40 years of past research came out last year:

 Jean Twenge, the study's lead author, a psy­chol­o­gist at San Die­go State Uni­vers­ity  and au­thor of the book Genera­t­ion Me. wrote:

“These da­ta show that re­cent genera­t­ions are less likely to em­brace com­mun­ity mind­ed­ness and are fo­cus­ing more on mon­ey, im­age and fame.” 

In 1992, a young CEO named Kurt Herwald apparently gave away half a million dollars of his company’s money. 

His company, Stevens Aviation, had been advertising with the slogan “Plane Smart.” 

Unaware that Stevens had a copyright on the slogan, Southwest Airlines launched an advertising campaign with the tag line “Just Plane Smart.”

 Southwest’s campaign wasn’t really hurting Stevens.

  Herwald ended up handing the slogan over to Southwest, asking for nothing in return. Was this a wise decision?

 Most people say no; a smart person wouldn’t give the slogan away. After all, smart people are shrewd, calculating, and logical—not helpful, caring, and compassionate.

Are you most people?  Am I?

Some studies have shown when our decisions are governed by emotion and instinct, we act generously.

 When we have time to rationally analyze the options, we become more selfish. 

At first glance, this seems to suggest that smart people are more likely to take than give.

Other studies indicate that smarter people give more.

 First, the more intelligent you are, the more you excel at analyzing other people’s interests.

 People with higher cognitive ability are better able to understand the needs of distant others. 

 Second, the smarter you are, the more you reject zero-sum, win-lose thinking. 

Take Herwald's decision.

 Herwald did some homework on Herb Kelleher, the colorful cofounder and then-CEO of Southwest Airlines.

  Learning that Kelleher had a reputation for being a ham, Herwald pitched an unconventional idea: 

instead of going to court, they should hold an arm wrestling contest. 

The victor would earn the rights to the slogan, and select a charity to which the loser would donate $5,000.

And so was born the arm-wrestling match, 

 As Herwald anticipated, Kelleher pulled out all the stops, strutting like a professional wrestler, smoking a cigar, and carrying Wild Turkey bourbon.

The two companies donated the $15,000 proceeds to charity, and according to Southwest’s PR manager, the publicity generated by the event was worth $6 million.

 Being smart doesn’t mean being the Tin Man, any more than being caring means lacking a brain like the Scarecrow.

 But what if you are stuck with interacting with a selfish person?

 1. Understand where they are coming from:

  Undestanding doesn’t mean letting someone off the hook --

But if you can get behind the behavior and discover what’s motivating it, you'll have a better chance of responding in a way that might make it less powerful. 

 Young children, of course, are supposed to be selfish (this is different from entitled). 

Part of the work of bringing up children to live in a social world is

 helping them begin to understand that other people have feelings and needs that need to be respected.

 2. Don’t take it personally.

Dysfunctional behavior stems from the dysfunctional person not you.  

Easy to say but hard to do.  The dysfunctional person will end up making for him or herself a dysfunctional world.  Stay in it as short a time as possible.

 3. Don’t assume

 One really useful way to deal with someone’s cruel or selfish remarks is to ask them what they mean—in a quiet and thoughtful voice.

If there is merit in them, adjust your actions.  If not, then calmly state you see it another way, and do what you deem is most kind to all involved.

 4. Remember that no amount of anger on your part will keep the rain from being wet.

After several interactions with a person, you get a sense of who they are.  Iron will never be steel.  So if it rusts and you get mad, whose fault is it?

Shaking your fist at the rain will not keep you dry, but using an umbrella or staying out of it will.


Do you think people are more selfish and self-absorbed today than in past decades? 


  1. I am pretty certain that there have been selfish and self absorbed people since (and probably before) we came down from the trees.
    At the end of the day I can control only one person's behaviour. The only person I HAVE to live with. So, to the best of my abilities I do. And I try and make her someone I am not ashamed of. A work in progress.

  2. Elephant's Child:
    I'm sure you're right: selfishness seems part of the human condition. We can only be the change we wish to see in the world. :-)

  3. I really don't know about selfishness being better or worse. I think it has always existed. What is worse now than it ever was is the amount of media attention that goes to Celebrities Behaving Badly. There was a time when bad behavior was called what it was and the person who did it DID NOT gain from it. We now live in a time where any publicity is good publicity and the best way to get it is by acting badly. I don't think that sets a good example for anyone. Particularly the kids.

    One thing that I definitely see is that there is less Community that there was before. I remember knowing all of my neighbors as a kid. I know a FEW of my neighbors now. I remember my neighbors hanging out on porches and talking on the sidewalk when I was a kid. No one does this anymore. You might have a chance conversation with someone who is working in their yard. I think that even in the cities there was a time when people really knew their neighbors. Society was more close knit... With the advent of the internet, there really does seem to be less need for face to face interaction. I am not saying that the internet is bad, but we do need to unplug sometimes and talk to Real People.

  4. I think people are less connected to each other now than they used to be. Our worlds become more and more isolated (went bowling last night and watched as everyone sat silently looking at their phones rather than talking to each other) and therefore more and more centered on ourselves. It's like we forget that other people also have needs and feelings because we spend so much time trying to control our own personal worlds instead of sharing what is right in front of us. The less we share the more alone we become. The more alone we become the less happy we feel. The less happy we feel the more we try to control our world. The more we try to control our world the the less we share . . .
    It's a bit ironic because the whole idea of globalization and the information age is supposed to be that in connects us.

    Apologies if I got a bit off topic. That's my understanding of most of the selfish behavior I encounter, especially in myself.

  5. Robin:
    Selfishness has always existed: you're right. But never as socially sanctioned as it is now.

    You've got the bad PR right: the Miley Effect says it all. It takes more and more to get a rise out of people. Setting one's hair on fire is next I suppose.

    Yes, we were a friendlier people years back, knowing AND caring about our neighbors. Now, we are the "Alone" people. :-(

    Funny: that video about the girl who lost her cell phone showed her at the bowling alley, hitting a strike, and everyone too caught up in the smart phones to notice and cheer for her.

    No apology. You were right on target. The internet does not bind us together but pushes us apart. :-(