In his recent NY Times column, David Brooks explores the idea that nice guys finish first. He acknowledges that, yes, “we spend our time trying to maximize our outcomes — competing for status, wealth and mating opportunities,” but that “humans developed moral minds that help them and their groups succeed.”
Instead of talking about competition and cooperation as an either/or equation, Brooks talks about them as both/and. We are both competitive and cooperative. We look out for ourselves, and we make sacrifices for those we care about. He references Emory University neuroscientists James Rilling and Gregory Berns, who say that, “serving others may produce the same sort of pleasure as gratifying a personal desire.”
Within Live Conscious we advocate determining what we most deeply value, then living our lives in accord with those values. Does this lead people to be self-indulgent? No, it doesn’t. The vast majority of people who participate in our programs reveal that at least one of their top three values in life has to do with some form of benevolence. They value serving others in one way or another, which supports the position Brooks puts forward.
Also, I think there’s an interesting question about nice guys finishing first or finishing last, which is, “according to whom?” Who determines if you finish first or last? Do you give power to other people to determine your worth? That’s what this is about in my mind. Although there are competitive sports at which we can observe who comes in first and who comes in last, I think this has more to do with how we feel about ourselves.
I’m going to suggest that people who feel good about themselves have a survival advantage. When we feel good about ourselves we are more resourceful and have more choices. So, again, I ask “Who determines how you feel about yourself?” Maybe this too is not best answered with an either/or, but rather a both/and. We need to feel good about ourselves—independently of what other people think—and part of the way we do that is by behaving in such a way that others feel good about us too.
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