The Unselfish Majority

Lynn A. Stout, USA

Professor of Corporate and Securities Law at UCLA & author of 'Cultivating Conscience: How Good Laws Make Good People'. (Princeton University Press, 2011)

(Submitted by The Art of Living Team)

Experts often assume that humans are selfish creatures who respond only to punishments and rewards, and who can’t be trusted to do a good job or refrain from lying, cheating and stealing unless given the right “incentives”. Yet every day we see people behaving ethically and unselfishly - few of us mug the elderly or steal the paper from our neighbor’s yard, and many of us help strangers. We nevertheless overlook the good aspects of our own natures and fixate on the bad things people do and how we can stop them.

This focus on bad behavior obscures the reality, and importance, of goodness, leading us to neglect the crucial role our better impulses could play in shaping society. Evidence from behavioral science and experimental gaming demonstrates that unselfish pro-social behavior (sacrificing to follow ethical rules, or to help or avoid harming others) is far more common and important than generally recognized. Under the right conditions, the vast majority of people act as if they have a conscience that causes them to act ethically and look out for others’ interests.

These empirical findings suggest that, rather than leaning on the power of greed to channel human behavior, policymakers often might do better to focus on and promote the force of conscience.

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