Studies that look at the effects of kindness and generosity over time suggest that the cynical phrase “nice guys finish last” is false outside of isolated events. While a pugnacious competitor may take advantage of a kind gesture, he or she sacrifices future cooperation in doing so.
The notion that nice guys finish last, i.e. that kindness and generosity put a person at a disadvantage, is allegedly supported by a thought experiment called the Prisoner’s Dilemma. In the experiment, two suspected criminals will turn each other in to receive shorter sentences.
But the problem lies in the experiment’s assumptions and limitations: that the prisoners share no innate concern for each other and the lack of context to their relationship. In the real world, relationships last longer than a single event, and purely self-interested behavior is a recipe for social isolation.
In business, cooperation results in more loyal customers, and brisker technological innovation.
“[A]nimals (in this case, humans) which contain genes that promote nice behavior are likely to have more offspring. It’s the basic underlying code for altruistic behavior. You help me and I’ll help you, and ultimately we’ll all do better.”
In this sense, kindness and generosity, insofar as they help establish a community which supports its individual members, is an evolutionary advantage that humans share over purely individualistic species.
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