Saturday, September 8, 2018

Why Givers Thrive

     Altruism, compassion, and cooperation increase the good in the community and we, in return, benefit from the community. Darwin's theory of the survival of the fittest does not mean survival of the strongest, fastest, or smartest. Survival of the fittest means survival of the individuals and groups who are most adaptable to change. Evolution is a force that impacts the entire community. The kin selection theory states that givers prevail because the goodwill they share will be passed on, thus conferring the "inclusive fitness". Working together for the betterment and overall improvement of the society help others and ourselves.
     After reading Charles Darwin's "On the Origins of Species," Herbert Spencer in the early 1800s developed the concept of evolution as the progression of culture and society including morality (Wikipedia). He believed that the laws of nature also governed morality. Taking the ethically and morally correct course of action is not only the appropriate behavior but one that will be naturally selected for by the community.  With the same reasoning, actions and behaviors that undermine the best interest of the society will fail to survive. For example, societies that value basic human rights (life, liberty, equality) have consistently prospered compared to societies that subvert human rights, independent of the availability of natural resources and other geopolitical advantages.  At the individual level, kind and compassionate people often are more loved and cared for than hostile and antagonistic individuals.
      If we desire to achieve success in our personal and professional lives, then giving to others may be one of the most important steps we can take. Individuals who have reached significant success often have a large sphere of influence. I recently asked Matt Davenport what he thought was the most important attribute that influencers possessed that lead them to their rise. He said "[Influencers] care more for others than they care for themselves. They give of themselves to others." We must give to others not because we want something back but because we care about their well-being and their success.  This is the fastest way we can develop our sphere of influence per Matt. Altruism has a ripple effect and its impact extends far beyond its immediate wave. The opposite is also true; selfish individuals will gain poor reputations which can hamper growth and promotion.  
    According to Adam Grant giving must be distinguished from several traits that can plague givers: timidity, availability, and empathy.  Assertiveness, a quality associated with takers, is the antithesis of timidity.   One way to overcome timidity is for givers to see how getting what they want will help others around them. "When givers saw themselves as agents representing the interests of others, being tough was completely consistent with their self-images as givers," wrote Adam Grant. A second setback is availability. Givers are often burdened with excessive responsibility or interrupted to help others which can interfere with productivity. A solution proposed by Lelie Perlow is to set boundaries: have blocks of time for "giving" and protect chunks of quiet time to do focused work. Perlow found that "quiet time" yielded a 65% productivity increase in the studied cohort. A third trap is empathy. Givers who empathize with the takers may be prone to manipulation by shrewd takers. To overcome this, givers can try "perspective taking". In a study performed by Adam Galinsky, participants were told to role-play salary negotiations. One group was assigned to be empathizers (to imagine what the interviewees were feeling). A second group was assigned to perspective taker (to determine what the interviewees were thinking and what their interests were). A third group was the control and did neither. Galinsky found that empathizers sacrificed their own interests and led candidates to have high salaries and bonuses. Perspective takers performed better than empathizers and control; perspective taking allowed them to consider all the options and weight various priorities of the interviewees. Perspective takers found that interviewees valued bonuses more and thus, the final offer gave high bonuses with a concession for a lower salary. Overcoming these pitfalls of generosity will allow givers to continue giving without being used and promote the more hesitant individuals to give more.


  1. Christopher Bergland. The Evolutionary Biology of Giving. Psychology Today. December 2012
  2. Herbert Spencer. Wikipedia
  3. Adam Grant. In the company of Givers and Takers. HBR April 2013.

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