On being rational: to give more or take none?

I was reading a book on social intelligence and this interesting scenario was mentioned. Say, you and someone else were given $100 to share, but there’s a condition. One person gets $80, and the other gets only $20. There’s only two options available – either you follow the condition OR both of you get nothing. If you had to be the person receiving the smaller sum, which will you choose?

The immediate reflexive response for most would probably be the latter. After all, why should you be the one who get lesser, it’s not fair! That was my initial thought. But then as I read on, the author’s elaboration started making more and more sense. According to the author, it would be more rational for you to accept the condition because despite getting the smaller sum, at least you’ll still be getting something as opposed to nothing at all. Yet, often many of us are unable to respond in such a manner because the indignity of being on the “losing end” is too much to bear. But then another question comes along: would it really be considered “losing” if you’re getting that $20? At least, both of you stand to benefit and greater good is achieved. I suppose for some people, a greater loss would be the emotional trauma suffered from the unjust allocation rather than the actual money itself.

I’m on team choose-the-20-and-get-something. As I was showering, my brain suddenly linked this scenario to another context in which the same underlying principle can be applied. Now, imagine you and your sibling got into a fight. You can choose to be the one offering an olive branch (aka being at a slight disadvantage in terms of pride, similar to the above scenario of being the disadvantaged one who gets the $20). The greater common good in this case would be the relief and happiness felt over resolving the conflict. However, if you don’t make the first move, nothing changes and instead the relationship takes on a sour note.

This sudden realisation was like my Eureka! moment. In the past, whenever I quarrelled with my sister, I’d hate not having the last word. I’d hate having to give in first because my pride was at stake. It felt like if I made the first move, that would mean losing. But the money scenario has taught me that the real loss comes if I remain stubborn by childishly deciding to let both of us suffer, instead of being the bigger person and receiving more ultimately.

I’d like to end this post by saying: I’m glad shower thoughts are a thing. With today’s epiphany, I think I’m slowly on my way to becoming a better sister, a better human at least when it comes to resolving arguments.

P.S The book mentioned is none other than Social Intelligence – The New Science Of Human Relationships by Daniel Goleman.

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