Why Some People are Jerks

…and How Not to Be One Yourself

Yale researchers conducted a game theory study in which people would either be helpful or selfish, using intuition or deliberative thought to decide which way to go. Bill Hathaway of Phys.Org sums up the results this way:

People who come from a supportive and friendly environment learn intuitively to cooperate—even with strangers where there is no potential payoff—because they have often benefited from such generous behavior. However, if they take time to deliberate, they overrule their cooperative instinct if they realize there is no possibility of future payoff. People who are typically surrounded by jerks, on the other hand, learn intuitively to be selfish—and also learn not to deliberate. So, the model shows, they wind up acting selfishly even when cooperating would actually pay off, because they don’t stop to think.

Selfish people “don’t stop to think.” Just keep on doing what they do. Rules don’t apply. Even if the selfish one gets no real benefit…mindless, habitual responses prevail. You know where this is going: To Mindfulness, of course. But first, to Narcissism. Twenge and Campbell, in The Narcisissm Epidemic (2010) point out that narcissism has risen just as fast as obesity since the 1980s, and is accelerating still. And as you can see from the Yale study, it’s contagious! The greater the selfishness in the environment around you, the greater the risk of selfishness in you. Not exactly news to everyone. The Advaita Vedantists (Hindu) have a concept, “Good Company.” This means for us to fill our lives with the finest of what we can in life; in literature, music, food, wine, art…and yes, in the company of people we keep. If you tend more toward helpfulness and caring for others naturally yourself, be sure to surround yourself with as many others who are also helpful and caring as you can. This way you will not have to waste your precious energy trying to be someone you are not, to protect yourself from others not like you. If, on the other hand, your experiences or environment have primed you more for selfishness as your primary way to be in the world, it doesn’t always have to be that way. People in mental health circles sometimes think of narcissism as intractable, but if we think of selfishness as someone trying to make it through the day in the only way s/he knows how, then other ways of being can become possible once s/he learns how.

As one client* put it, when I introduced the notion of a loving relationship with someone someday for him, “I don’t even know what that would look or feel like.” So now he mindfully pays attention to what he feels, in a way that no one else ever did. What does he feel and where does he feel it – as a way to connect with and grow his compassion for himself and for others, his capacity to both love and be loved. Two steps forward, one step back. We do not know if things can be different and richer until and unless we try. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, call or write at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

Do the math – why some people are jerks yet others are even nice to strangers, Bill Hathaway, http://phys.org/news/2016-01-mathwhy-people-jerks-nice-strangers.html

*Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2016. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.




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