HUMANITY hasn't thrived all these centuries because we're ruthlessly selfish ; we've thrived because we're really good at cooperation. The World Students Society - the exclusive ownership of every student, is a perfect example.

But suppose you're a nice person and you've to compete with ruthless, selfish idiots. Aren't you forced to play by the rules of dog eat dog? 

Well, not necessarily. For his book '' Give and Take, '' the organizational psychologist Adam Grant identified other-centered people in organization [the givers] and self-centered people, the ones who are always on the lookout for what they can extract for themselves [the takers].

He found that many of the low-performing workers were givers. They allowed themselves to be walked over, taken advantage of.

But when Grant looked at the top performers in organizations, he found that givers dominated those ranks, too.

These givers had golden reputations, wider social networks, better relationships - people wanted to work with and collaborate with them. It's best to be a giver who knows, in extreme cases, how to stand up for oneself.

I'd say that a lot of our public thinkers have vastly underestimated the importance of the moral and social motivations woven into human nature. We tip at restaurants we'll never return to.

We leap to help one another during natural disasters. We yearn not only to be admired but also to be worthy of admiration.

I'd say that many of our public thinkers have wound up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

By telling people that they are innately selfish and surrounded by others who are innately selfish, we have encouraged one another to magnify the selfish side of our natures.

I'd also say that we in the West draw too sharp a distinction between gifts and transactions.

In his classic essay ''The Gift,'' the sociologist Marcel Mauss argued that many cultures do not make this stark distinction. In those cultures, people see themselves embedded in a network of material, social and spiritual care.

People give one another a hand ; they lend one another an ear; they borrow and lead. They see these exchanges not as cold, zero-sum transactions but as ongoing supportive and reciprocal relationships.

Finally, I'd say we in the West have gone overboard in building systems that try to motivate people by appealing mostly to their economic self-interest.

WE build inhuman systems in which material incentives blot-out social and moral incentives. And we've made ourselves miserable along the way.

The World Students Society thanks author David Brooks.


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