Saturday, January 19, 2013

2 ways looking out for others’ interest and your interests will not make you feel guilty

Have you been accused of being individualistic, self-centered, even selfish? It didn’t bode well with you, not so? On the other end of the line, have you ever put yourself in line for others, making sacrifices for them, only to end up hurting yourself? You will not be willing to do so again. The two situations above can result in personal and inter-personal conflict. This is because as social creatures, sharing means caring, and we are expected and have been brought up to give priority to others over the self. Yet, you cannot eat your cake and have it. You cannot lose your self-interest and hope to pursue your personal goals at the same time.

Man feeling guilty, nun beside him. Credit: DG Jones/
In order to lead more fulfilling, happier lives, when can we, you and I, draw the line between placing the interest of others above our own self-interest?

Why is this important?

By the way, why is the above question important? If we do not satisfy our inherent prosocial desires, we are creating an environment for internal conflict. Internal conflict can result in unexplained or even excessive feelings of guilt for everyday actions. The father of economics, Adam Smith, acknowledged that while markets and commerce function because humans collectively work together, beneath the scene, the invisible hand of self-interest, or the desire to attain something for ourselves, to have a personal advantage, makes this prosocial market interaction beneficial.

Want self-interest without guilt – have it imposed

We often hear reports that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer; that the world’s resources are in the hands of a few rich, influential men while the rest suffer abject poverty. If you are very rich, should you feel guilty about this? No matter what the argument, which the author of this piece will rather put aside, most rich persons feel guilty when faced with this statistic. So they have resorted to philanthropy and immense acts of generosity. There are numerous foundations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, that would gladly turn the tables, as well as numerous economic forums that wish to address this problem.

This altruism even in the face of selfism and greed is due to the internal conflict we face when the above questions are broached; as mentioned earlier. Psychological scientists Jonathan Berman and Deborah Small of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in a recent work, “Self-Interest Without Selfishness: The Hedonic Benefit of Imposed Self-Interest”, believe that to feel accomplished and happy even when pursuing personal advantages, it is beneficial that the desire should be “imposed” on us as individuals, and should not come from our volition. That is, people should see it as a duty, an obligation, that you pursue such a course for the benefit of yourself because it will benefit the common good.

In other words, what Bernard and Small are arguing is that if you desire the perks and advantages of life, you should allow others to confer it on you, to make you want to go for it, and not your initiating the action so that you do not lose your happiness and make yourself guilt-ridden.

Phrases like “I want it now!” will only make you guilty.

You can also make sacrifices without getting hurt.

Self-sacrifice is a virtue. If you fall into this group, you are a rare gem. No amount of money or incentive can reward you enough. But, you will agree with me that no one wants to be self-sacrificing and end up losing out. The majority of persons are averse to losses.
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In order to maintain that excelling quality of self-sacrifice and still minimize your losses, if you foresee any in a venture, say, you intend negotiating with some kidnappers about some victims and if the negotiations go awry, whoever gets the blame might lose so much, or, you want to undertake business ventures for a friend who is sick and are willing to feed him information about how the business is run on a daily and transparent basis, in such cases, you have to “cover your back,” to avoid disappointments and disheartenment. You cannot read the human mind and no one can foretell what time and unforeseen circumstances can cough up in the area of the imagination.

It is expected that you should be clear about the expected values and goals. Be ready to communicate well your fears. Let every party know what the risks are, the losses you foresee. Then ask: Who is going to be responsible for such losses?

Psychologists call these the “sense of agency,” that is, who is going to be responsible, who is going to be at the helm of control? Because you are undertaking these sacrifice, a “sense of ownership” is conferred on you, because you desire to be prosocial than selfish; if you retain the sense of agency for those acts, or are at the helm of control, you have no reason to complain if you are hurt, or end up with unanticipated losses.

If nobody wants to take responsibility, then whatever self-sacrificing action you intend undertaking was not valued, is not needed and is better left alone. Nobody pays money for what is not valuable; nobody is interested in controlling a valueless venture.

It is important that you throw away the sense of agency, the control and responsibility, in situations of self-sacrifice if getting hurt might make you shrink back from your sacrificial character. The essence is for you and others to benefit from your actions while you still get to be able to have your morale, your spirit, the vigor to want to carry out such an action in the future. Only a fool undertakes hurting him- or herself.

Guilt is a terrible thing if you value happiness over material wealth. I faced a similar situation recently and had to take action on it after reading this sciencedaily article. I decided to share it with you because I believe it will greatly benefit you.

Summary: wait for others to impose it on you, or make it deserving of you, if you intend pursuing your personal advantages; transfer control and leadership positions to others if an action you are undertaking is self-sacrificial in nature. Life is all about being happy and satisfied.

Prosocial is virtuous but taking care of yourself is the engine behind it all.


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