We seem to be pre-wired, from an early age, towards
helping rather than hindering.
In 2007 a team of researchers from Yale University showed a group of pre-verbal babies a puppet show.1 In the show a character was shown, twice, attempting to climb a hill, each time failing and falling back. On the third attempt, another character either helped the first by pushing them up the hill, or hindered by pushing them back down.
Once the show had finished and the three scenarios shown, the “helper” puppet and the “hinderer” puppet were placed in front of the babies.
Overwhelmingly, the babies reached for the “helper” puppet. The researchers suggest that this experiment “supports the view that the capacity to evaluate individuals on the basis of their social interactions is universal and unlearned.”
Our natural instincts then seem to be pre-wired towards helping rather than hindering.
Yet, many of our socially constructed institutions teach us something different. We are taught to compete for the best jobs, the most money, the greater prestige, or the “right” to rule. And, if that means hindering others in order to do so, then that is all part of the economic game.
Have we allowed those few, who as babies would have chosen the “hinderer,” to construct, and maintain, the systems and institutions upon which our society is based?
If that is the case, then the “hinderer choosers” have been doing so for a very very long time. Time enough for the rest of us to think, and believe, that it is normal. Thus it is that a whole belief system has been constructed. Our pre-wiring has been dismantled and our ideas about who we are have been re-wired.
Yet, it is phony.
So, how do we dismantle this phony system? How do we return to a state of innate (unlearned) “helpfulness”?
Perhaps a good place to start is by disconnecting our re-wired understandings and ideas. Many of these phony understandings have been encapsulated into pithy a saying, which gives them a potency they do not deserve. Here are five of those phony, pithy, sayings we must reject:
· Might is right.
· Self-interest is good.
· Life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” A quote from the philosopher Thomas Hobbes and adopted without thought by many in western-styled cultures.
· “There is no such thing as society.” Margaret Thatcher’s famous quote that underlies much of neo-liberalism.
· “Survival of the Fittest.” Misattributed to Charles Darwin, the term “fittest” often mistakenly taken to mean, quickest, smartest, biggest, fastest. A meaning Darwin never intended. His conception of “fitness” was similar to that of a jigsaw piece “fitting” into a whole picture.
1. J. Kiley Hamlin, Karen Wynn & Paul Bloom. Social evaluation by preverbal infants, in Nature, Vol 450, 22 November 2007