Self-centred / other-centred behaviour
How we behave is determined by a complex set of forces found within ourselves and the living moments we experience. Each situation possesses forces that influence our behaviour. The context in which we find ourselves is critical and the situation influences can overwhelm our own behaviour endeavours in given contexts. The psychology, and sociology, of the context is foundational to the behaviour within that context. The dynamics of human behaviour are driven by the “contest” between the personal influence, situational influence and the influence directed through the forces tied to our behaviour beliefs and the overriding behavioural drivers such as fear, our core beliefs about people and about how people relate one to another. The core belief we have in reference to others directs our behaviour. If the belief is that people are good and give to others in relationships as opposed to people who seek advantage and take from others, then the “downstream” living and behaviour actions will reflect that. In essence people will be either self or other centred. Behaviour is so directed in every living moment. This core belief is the fundamental determinant of personal and relational wellbeing, for humans reside in relationships and how we behave in relationships is critical to wellbeing.
Relationship with self
The primary relationship is of course with one’s self however it is this relationship with self (self-regard) that does determine how one relates with another. If our self-regard is positive then we are positioned well to relate positively to others. However, the relational influences found in moments are determined by a complex matrix of personal, contextual or situational circumstances all of which operate in concert to direct and determine our individual behaviour.
What is “good behaviour”?
Changing behaviours of individuals and groups requires an extensive understanding of all influences listed above along with the strengths, virtues and vulnerabilities each person brings to each situation. The situational context also presents predetermined expectations of behaviour that also must be understood, appreciated and acknowledged. Each situation has a behavioural setting. Each person entering a setting anticipates a behavioural circumstance and so behaves. Often the person “gets it right”, and “behaves”, but at times the person can misread the expected behaviour and behave differently to the (situational) expected behaviour and “misbehave”, they do not “get it right”. We all understand that situations do direct behaviour. We all have the capacity to exercise different behaviours in different situations. We are behaviour athletes who “dance” carefully, in a behavioural sense, from one situation to another. How each of us determine the “appropriate” behaviour for each situation establishes comfort and a peace of mind for each of us and for others in that situation. Those who attempt to overtly influence or change the situational behaviour do face serious challenge, for change causes feelings of discomfort. Each of us has to adjust and recalibrate our behaviour for the situation to settle.
The power players in this dynamic dance can be constructive or destructive, can enable peace or destroy it, or disturb each person. The behaviour situation can become chaotic and the power plays, the influences, then come to the fore as each of us works to exert influence. Power plays will always occur as each contextual behaviour pattern is established or nuanced by us all in the moment. This has been described in all manner of real living circumstances and in “laboratory” circumstances. These moments or contextual behavioural circumstances have been written about in novels and some of these novels have won literary prizes.
Are we inherently selfish?
William Golding’s Lord of the Flies won the Nobel Prize in literature for describing some British schoolboys attempting to live together when stranded on an island. Golding promoted misbehaviour as the driving force and explained his belief that the boys would take advantage of one another and promote self-interest, or the interest of the small group. He portrayed the boys as inherently selfish beings who took from, rather than gave to, others. The opposite is true. Cooperation overrules competition for individuals and for the group. To thrive, cooperation becomes essential. Such is the “champion team” concept. Tribes who cooperated survived. Darwin, and many others, have shown this. Evolutionary biology confirms this. In the wonderful book titled The Emperor of All Maladies (A Biology of Cancer), written by Siddhartha Mukherjee, this was explored at the cellular level and confirmed that cooperation, not competition, ensured the survival of the fittest. This was reinforced by Richard Dawkins in the misnamed book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins concluded that cooperation did profit existence and growth as opposed to competition where destruction was the ultimate outcome.
Action and emotion
The recognition of situational behaviour power plays and the dance that encapsulates those power influences is essential to behaviour in that context. Behaviour management is really the outcome of how one recognises and regulates emotion in the moment. Affect theory describes this well as does research into emotional regulation. Daniel Goleman explored this in his books Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence. He attempted to direct the management of behaviour through the personal realisation of emotions as “(physically) felt states”. The recognition of these “felt states” allows each individual to consciously change emotions. As stated however, behaviour is situational. It is contextual. It is defined by actions and actions are sponsored by emotion.
Social Intelligence significantly directs emotions and behaviour. Social Intelligence, to use a Goleman description, defines how one recognises, in the moment, the emotional drivers of behaviour. Human nature is to cooperate, to be kind, to give to others, to forgive. This means that in all relationships we can learn to act in positive ways towards another. We can be “delivered from evil”. We often need help to do so initially; we need certain prompts at times for to “stand alone” can be challenging. My saying that “if it is wrong, it is wrong, even if everyone is doing it, and that if it is right, it is right, even if no one is doing it” does extend our capacity to regulate emotions and therefore behaviour. It is what we are requested to do within relationships and within communities. It is about cooperation, about responsibility to oneself and to others. It is based upon what is right and upon the moral request to protect “the common good”.
Upstanders and the common good
The common good is achieved through people being upstanders, not bystanders. “Evil will rule if good men do nothing”. Doing nothing, by “passing by”, one tacitly approves of the evil or “mis-behaviour”. The Hippocratic Oath directs a responsibility to all to ensure no harm. This is not difficult nor does it, or should it, create “hero” status. It should be how we all behave.
“The ordinary hero lives within each of us”
As Emeritus Professor Philip Zimbardo states in his essential book The Lucifer Effect, “the ordinary hero lives within each of us”. Hannah Arendt’s notion of the “banality of evil”, which again can reside in each of us, can be overcome. Professor Zimbardo indicates that we are all capable in all situations to stand alone for good; we are all capable of actions that promote peace, goodwill, human dignity and wholesome relationships; to uphold what is best in human nature. It is possible to rise above the powerful pressures of the situation that promote behaviours that are less becoming, less enabling and less humane. The dignity one has for oneself, or the group, is directed by how we behave in each and every situation in which we find ourselves. Again, to quote Professor Zimbardo who concludes The Lucifer Effect with a quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “The line between good and evil is in the center of every human heart”. It is “The Way Forward” to be an upstander. Upstanding will promote moral contribution to others. This is the humane situational influence we are obliged to establish, employ, and nurture. It will “deliver us from evil”.