“The intelligent altruists will be fitter than both the unintelligent altruists and selfish individuals”. Herbert Simon
Have Courage and Be Kind
Kindness and Courage are values I strive to live by (the third value being Learning). But, I always found an inherent conflict between the two. An extreme version of kindess is the “doormat effect” – constantly saying yes to others while depleting your own energy. An extreme version of courage is “being a douche” – forcing your will and opinion on others.
How do you balance the Kindness and Courage?
Adam Grant’s wonderful book “Give and Take ” provides a wonderful mental model to deal with the conflict.
Surprise: Top 5% and Bottom 5% are Givers
He starts by providing data to back-up what I intuitively believed my whole life – helping others (kindness) is good for everyone. He states that the top 5% of successful people in life are “Givers” – people who help others i.e. kindness works!. The world conspires to help people who help others. This is also a core tenet of hinduism (“dharma”) and other religions. The Givers beat out the “Takers” and “Matchers”.
However, the more interesting nugget of his analysis is that the bottom 5% of people (least successful) are also Givers. The reason being these people expend so much of their energy helping others, they burn out and are unable to replenish their own energy. They are often taken advantage of by “Takers”. These self-sacrificing givers, don’t have enough focus on their own success.
Being Otherish: Intelligent Altruism
Adam Grant defines a surprising new category between Selfishness/Takers (high concern for self-interest, low concern for others interests) and Selflessness/Self-sacrificing Givers (low concern for self-interest, high concern for others interests). He calls this category Otherish (high concern for self-interest, high-concern for others’ interests).
He brilliantly describes that self-less giving, in absence of self-preservation instincts, easily becomes overwhelming. Being otherish means being willing to give more than you receive, but still keeping your own interests in sight, using them as a guide for choosing when, where, how and to whom to give. Otherish givers help with no strings attached (unlike Matchers), they are just careful not to over-extend themselves along the way. Instead of seeing self-interest and others’ interest as competing, they find a way to integrate them! Otherish givers are less prone to burning out and can flourish. In Herbert Simon’s words, these are the intelligent altruists.
In the next few blogs, I will outline some Otherish strategies that I have learned and adopted (some successfully and some not). Adam Grant’s book to me is so much more than a book; it is a life philosophy. It has helped me see how Kindness and Courage and not just co-exist but flourish!