Face it. As humans, we are inherently selfish. It’s all part of natural selection, we want the best for ourselves: the best food, opportunities, friends.
But most importantly — we strive for survival.And that’s why we are inherently egocentric, everything we seek points us towards prolonging our gene pool.
But, since the start of time, us humans have always been burdened with the me vs us dilemma.
This debates whether, from a natural selection perspective — being inherently selfish is better for survival, or whether you should help others, form friendships and create groups.
Prehistoric homosapiens faced this dilemma. Should I kill and steal from someone, or share my food and nurture this person?
We face similar problems even today.
It’s even present in the relationships we form. A recent University study found that the pronouns your spouse use tell us a lot about their priorities. Regular use of the pronoun “me” tells us that they are more ego orientated, whereas “we” tell us they are more focused on forming a genuine connection.
Over time, modern Psychologists concluded that we should opt for an Us mentality. Here are three reasons why, too.
Two heads are better than one.
From a survival perspective: working together will always be better than working against each other.
Neanderthal’s had to decide whether to hunt together and share food or kill each other.
Think about that logically.
Selfless acts like sharing your food and working together will produce more recourses, reduce threats: and increase your chances of survival.
The same applies in 2019 — should we socially threaten each other, or help and support each other? Healthy competition can encourage us to strive to be our best — but social threats, like failure to share our recourses, can be counterproductive.
When you pass a homeless person in need, should you share your money with them?
The truth is, helping each other will always be better for survival. By working together, and sharing our previous success, we will be able to produce things that benefit mankind quicker.
The latest technology, for example — could not have been achieved by one man who did not have access to other people’s prior technological developments.
Helping others reduces survival threats, and promotes progress that is beneficial for mankind — by sharing your recourses, maybe they can improve them just that little bit more.
“Growth is never the result of mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.” — James Cash Penney.
The survival benefits of forming a connection.
On top of the physical resourceful benefits that come with helping others — they also help us form relationships that are essential for living a meaningful life.
The truth is, as humans, we are desperate to form connections: relationships, friendships — even enemies.
Isolation and failure to form a connection with someone is associated with a lack of purpose and feelings of loneliness. And these can be at the detriment of your health.
Friendships drastically reduce stress and blood pressure levels. And for some people, like a mother caring for her child, they provide people with a purpose and reason to wake up in the morning.
And the truth is, true friendships are formed when you meet someone who would selflessly help you in your time of need; and who you would help, too.
So, without even considering the quality of life improvements, it’s clear that forming friendships by helping others is a favourable lifestyle from an evolutionary perspective.
“Friendship consists in forgetting what one gives and remembering what one receives.” — Alexander Dumas
The inherent goodness of helping others.
Immanuel Kant said that something is inherently good only if it is one’s duty to act in that way.
One explanation Kant presents through his Categorical Imperative. He argues that our duty is to act in accordance with the Universal Law.
The Universal Law, states that we should only act in ways that can be willed Universally — essentially, where everyone acts in that way at the same time.
And the Universal Law states that you must be happy for everyone to act in that way too — if you don’t then you face a contradiction of the will. Why should you be allowed to act in that way when no one else can?
Put briefly, it goes against our duty to act selfishly — given the choice, we would all avoid a world where everyone is selfish or takes whatever they want. But, according to the Categorical Imperative, acting selfishly is immoral: what gives you the right to act in this way when nobody else can?
By contrast, helping others is a universal law. We would all happily live in a world where everyone is helping each other.
Why? Because it improves our chances of survival — rather than competing and threatening each others existence, we can all benefit from one another. Such a world creates an environment where everyone can thrive.
Putting reasons aside, as Kant opposed acting from selfish reasons like survival — as helping others is Universal, in Kant’s eyes, it would be a duty.
“Live your life as though your every act would be come a Universal Law.” — Immanuel Kant
Avoiding Us vs Them.
We have now established the reasons for favouring an us mentality.
But, Psychologist Henri Tajfel quickly learnt that developing an us mentality can lead to social divide — and this causes people to quickly form an “Us Vs Them” mentality.
The Us Vs Them mentality occurs when numerous different social groups form — nationalities, religions, races. As we all know, this can lead to social hierarchy, discrimination and prejudice. As groups selfishly fight for power, they are always looking to enhance their groups social status.
On the face of it — this is not a morally or evolutionary beneficial mentality to have. So you need to avoid it at all costs.
But Us Vs Them is a false dichotomy — you have an alternative choice.
Teach yourself to see through neutral eyes — learn to help people regardless of their social group, or status. And do so for the three reasons mentioned.
Because the truth is, we all belong to the same “we.” We are all humans, striving for the same thing — to live good, meaningful lives. Don’t let tangible socially constructed groups distort this fact.
Since the start of time, we have been burdened with a choice — selfish or selfless? Psychologists think that you should adopt the latter frame of thinking.
- Two hands are better than one: by sharing your recourses, you promote progress that will benfit mankind in ways that you currently can’t even comprehend.
- Forming a connection has survival benefits: By helping others and forming friendships will bring about evolutionary benefits — such as providing you with purpose, reducing stress, and increasing your life expectancy.
- You should help others because it’s good within itself: As Kant notes, helping others is a Univeral Law, and that makes it an inherently good duty.
But when adopting a selfless mentality, make sure to avoid creating a social divide. Treat everyone equally, regardless of social class.
And who knows, maybe one day these people will adopt your frame of thinking and return the favour in your time of need.
“Day after day, ordinary people become heroes through extraordinary and selfless actions to help their neighbours”. — Sylvia Mathews Burwell.