The right answer is often at the intersection when altruism and selfishness meet.
Let’s start with something simple. You like to be touched. There is a pleasant feeling when someone rubs your shoulders. You feel loved. You feel appreciated. It feels good. That’s an incoming action which takes energy from someone else to do that to you. Someone else must rub your back.
For this to happen, that person must either be well compensated or enjoy the act of rubbing your back. You can pay someone for a massage and that will get your back rubbed. You can ask a parent or a child to do this for you however in that case you are likely asking for a favor which in turn must be added to the ledger of quid pro quo kept between you.
Another option would be to find someone who ‘wants’ to rub your back. What if there was someone who would pay YOU to let them rub your back? Is there a combination of desires by two people which completely offset each other? Where it comes together; I would pay you to rub my back and you would pay me to let you rub my back, then that is the desired contract. This way no one must pay anyone and the act itself offers me what I want as well as what you want in the same act.
Is this a scalable concept? I believe it is.
Let’s go even simpler. We both like to do a thing. Let’s pick darts. We both enjoy playing darts. What is the right thing to do? Should we 1) not play darts, or 2) play darts together? Maybe that’s a little bit too obvious of an answer.
What if we are both wanting two different things? If each of us can offer the other what they want, then that is an obvious mutually beneficial combination. But what if we both want opposite things? My assumption here is that we must either go our separate ways, if that’s possible, or we must negotiate. Let’s say you want to go somewhere, and I do not want to go there. Our interpersonal ability to negotiate and share our priorities will decide how efficiently we handle this situation. If we are both completely selfish, we will stand our ground and only offer to do what we want to do, and no middle ground can be reached. If we are each overly altruistic, we will offer the other whatever they want despite our own desires and here neither will accept the other’s offer to not appear selfish.
The goal of any win-win target is to have both of us get what we want. If we can come together and get to know each other well enough, we should be able to predict (within reason) what the other wants and doesn’t want in most situations. If this is true, then I can simply match what I want with what you want and therefore we both just want the same things. This is not easy however if one is always to be true to themselves.
If we can zoom out far enough in the relationship (be it friends, lovers, family, etc) we should be able to desire each other’s happiness or at least appreciation. If I can prioritize your happiness among my own desires for happiness, I can push myself to appreciate that you want things. You may want to play darts. But what if I don’t like to play darts? What then? You may want a back rub. This one should be easy if we are family or lovers and certainly possible between friends. If we are lovers, I should enjoy touching you and you should enjoy being touched by me. If we are friends or family, we should enjoy spending time together so that a back rub could be shared.
Can I get what I want while at the same time giving you what you want?
This is a basic tenant of business. I offer something that you want (a product or service) and you are willing to give me what I want (money) for it. Those who have money can get what they want (products or services) and those who have products and services can get what they want (money). If I want more money, then all I must do is improve the quality or increase the quantity of my products or services. If you want more things, then you are going to need more money.
It’s both a selfish and altruistic act to offer something to someone that they want and then require them to barter for it. It’s to your benefit that I offer something that you want but it’s to my benefit that I ask you to pay for it. It would be entirely altruistic were I to offer something that you want and simply give it to you without requiring payment. This however is not often tenable for very long. I require resources to generate the things that you want and if I didn’t require payment I would eventually run out of resources and no longer be able to generate your desired things.
To be clear, altruism is a very different thing from charity.
While charity is offering help to directly affecting a need, altruism requires no need. I can wish you the best (altruistically) without you needing my help. I can help an old lady cross the street although she is perfectly capable of making the trip alone. You can smile and wish me to have a great day without assuming I am not already having a great day.
Charity assumes a need or request while altruism is acting in a manner beneficial to others without expectation of repayment. In this case, an act of altruism is offered willingly and in direct relation to accomplishing something you will appreciate. If that altruistic act can also be an act I want to perform (the opportunity to rub your back or providing a product or service) then I should do it. Also, if the act brings something good to me then it can also be considered selfish. The best-case scenario here is that you get what you want, and I get what I want in the same act.
The most difficult part of this equation is finding out what everyone actually wants! Have you ever asked someone what they want? Asked them what they REALLY want…? Most people don’t even know and if they do know they are reluctant to admit it for a myriad of reasons. In business, this is quite difficult when negotiating with the old school types. The Donald Trumps of the world.
My father is like this. He is a keep-your-cards-close-to-your-chest kind of negotiator. Combine that with the negotiation style of “not only do I have to win but you also have to lose” and you enter a difficult position to find a win-win scenario. Mr. Trump will say I want a gazillion-katillion dollars for this pencil and that puts me in a position where meeting halfway is already a loss for me.
What if I said that I want a pencil and Mr. Trump was willing to say that he wants a reasonable exchange. Maybe I could use that reasonably priced pencil, along with my new-found savings to help Mr. Trump toward his g-t dollars but he certainly isn’t going to get all of it from me, on this single transaction. However, we might not even get to discuss other opportunities if he is dead set on our negotiations ending in him winning combined with my losing. I would no longer be in a position to make any further transactions to benefit either of us. It’s this short-term gain point of view that doesn’t allow for a mutually beneficial long-term relationship.
The point is that finding a mutually beneficial situation should be easier than it often is. What if I just tell you what you want and you just tell me what you want? If we are in a position of negotiation, we are likely already in the ballpark of what we each want. Let’s put our cards on the table and see where we can find a reasonable trade. If one or the other is unwilling to be reasonable when we all have what we want and what we have to offer splayed out in front of us, then the deal isn’t going to get done anyway. This will also show to the world who is actually unreasonable.
Let’s say I have 2,3,5,7 and I want a 1,4, and a 6. If you have 1,4,6,8,9 and you want 2,3,5 and 7 then we are in a good position to deal. Assuming the numbers are all equal-ish in value, we should be able to trade 2-3 numbers, and each get mostly what we want. We would only know this if our cards are on the table.
But if I’m doing everything I can to keep all of my numbers and somehow gain all of your numbers, then you have no incentive to offer me then numbers for concern of not receiving similar value in return.
If the goal is to gain as many sequential numbers as possible, then I simply trade you my 5 and 7 for your 1 and 4. This gives me 1,2,3,4 and you now have 5-9. Since you already had one more number than I did, this plays out evenly.
Now if the higher the numbers the greater their value, then we have a more complicated negotiation to navigate. Could I offer you my 2,3,5 for your 6,8,9? Sure, but what’s your incentive to acquiesce? You lose all of your higher numbers. My 7 is very valuable to you so it might actually benefit you to offer me your 4 and your 1 for the 7. Yes, you have the higher sequence of numbers, but I end up getting two numbers for the price of 1.
The fairest distribution of value is an unequal distribution of numbers. If I end up with 1-6 and you only have 7-9 then you still have a higher numerical value but we both end up with the maximum possible sequential number sets. If we didn’t have a ‘cards on the table’ mentality, you and I are unlikely to come to this conclusion as the best case mutually beneficial outcome.
If we both have a random sampling of numbers and neither knows much about what the other has, negotiations are extremely difficult. Much of the interaction will be working to find out what is even possible. Do you even have what I need? Do I have what you want? Maybe you’re lying about what you actually have in hopes of learning what I have and then changing the deal.
I believe trust and openness can be the strongest abilities towards finding the win-win.
Another concept to consider is that there may not be any truly altruistic act. If we take into account the positive feelings accrued when acting for the benefit of others then one is repaid (in a greater than 0 amount) in feeling good about ones’ actions. Many charity events are coupled with strong marketing campaigns screaming out: “look how charitable we are!” And in the same way, we often tell stories about helping others and then not looking for reward. Maybe the reward is gained in the admiration of others after hearing about our altruistic actions
It’s the anonymous donor that we praise for altruism. Is it an altruistic act to give credit to Santa Claus for gifts given to children at Christmas just to allow them to believe in magic for as long as possible? Is the reward worth the sacrifice?
I still go back to the back rub. If I enjoy touching you (selfish) and you enjoy being touched by my (selfish) then I should offer to rub your back and you should accept. This only works however if I know that you enjoy having me rub your back. It also only works if you know that I enjoy rubbing your back. Either way it requires us to share what we want and what we have to offer.
I’ll trade you a back rub in return for the pleasure of rubbing your back.
My personal takeaway from this concept is that I spend less energy negotiating to get what I want because I wear most of what I want on my sleeve, so to speak. I am more than willing to tell business partners, friends, family and even my personal and professional petty tyrants (see Carlos Casteneda) what I want. I also let them know what I have to offer. In this case, those around me are perfectly capable of making deals with me with little to no effort.
If I am wearing a shirt that says I want something and also on that shirt is a range of things I’m willing to offer to acquire it, then everyone around me can do business with me at any time. Those friends and family who have what I want, and I didn’t even know it are now able to see the transparency of my willingness to trade share and be open about what I have and what I want.
Let’s all get shirts made with what we want on the front and what we are willing to offer for what we want on the back. Maybe we can put it on the blockchain and it’ll all be magically connected one day.
SjB ~ 01.2020