Editor’s Note: A Catalytic Women member shares her thoughts on altruism and skills where women are “natural” leaders. Enjoy!/MH
Chances are you’ve all heard and even embraced as true, a belief in the “survival of the fittest.” What would you think about the theory that humankind’s greatest strength (and indeed survival) is not dependent on one’s individual strength or size, but instead on one’s ability to cooperate, connect and share?
In How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything…in Business (and in Life), (2011), author Dov Seidman cites the work of Dr. Richard Joyce, a professor at the Australian National University and author of The Evolution of Morality. Joyce explains that our morality – defined as the capacity to conceive of social behavior in terms of values – germinated in our earliest caveman and cavewoman ancestors. A caveman who embraced the benefit-of-the-group model not only survived, but thrived as he shared harvests and shelters, cooperating and assisting others. His self-sacrifice for the benefit of the whole engendered trust, prompting others in his tribe to reciprocate.
This altruistic caveman also gained a reproductive advantage: cavewomen, knowing a good thing when they saw it, wanted him for a mate. The result? The propagation of cavebabies imbued with these cooperating, connecting, sharing genes. And biology was not all that this open-armed caveman had in his favor; he also had influence over others who saw and wanted what he had. Those who did as he did received similar rewards including, offspring after offspring (both male and female) “throughout the eons” who were encoded with those same altruistic values.
Tribes, on the other hand, that embraced the benefit-of-the-individual model, did not cooperate, share, or form any sort of organized, cohesive society. As a result, these self-serving individuals and their tribes suffered starvation, exposure to deadly elements, and ultimate elimination.
So what does all this have to do with our lives today? Everything, I’d say.
As mammals and as social beings, we are dependent on others, physically, mentally, and emotionally from the moment we are born. Seidman concludes that “natural altruistism” – as opposed to self-interest – is just that: natural. Given the downturn in the world’s economy, loss of jobs, homes and savings, we may be tempted to curl into ourselves, determined to protect all that we have only to find that that choice doesn’t make us or anyone else feel any better. Why? Because it isn’t natural. If our genes have anything to say about it, there is an alternative: seeking others with whom we align to share our gifts, our abilities and our resources. It’s a natural win-win.
Catalytic Women member, Dana Whitaker, enjoys working with seasoned and emerging leaders and is author of Transforming Lives $40 at a Time, Women + Microfinance: Upending the Status Quo. More about Dana at www.openingeyes.net.