Friday, January 29, 2010

Humility Leads to Honesty

The Economist's summary of an article in Psychological Science is positively fascinating:

All of the volunteers were then asked to rate how immoral it would be for someone to take an abandoned bicycle rather than report the bicycle to the police. They were also asked, if they were in real need of a bicycle, how likely they would be to take it themselves and not report it. [Each question had a scale of 1 (totally immoral) to 9 (totally moral)]

The “powerful” who had been primed to believe they were entitled to their power readily engaged in acts of moral hypocrisy. They assigned a value of 5.1 to others engaging in the theft of the bicycle while rating the action at 6.9 if they were to do it themselves.

Among participants in all of the low-power states, morally hypocritical behaviour inverted itself, as it had in the case of tax fraud. “Legitimate” low-power individuals assigned others a score of 5.1 if they stole a bicycle and gave themselves a 4.3. Those primed to feel that their lack of power was illegitimate behaved similarly, assigning values of 4.7 and 4.4 respectively.

However, an intriguing characteristic emerged among participants in high-power states who felt they did not deserve their elevated positions. These people showed a similar tendency to that found in low-power individuals—to be harsh on themselves and less harsh on others—but the effect was considerably more dramatic. They felt that others warranted a lenient 6.0 on the morality scale when stealing a bike but assigned a highly immoral 3.9 if they took it themselves. Dr Lammers and Dr Galinsky call this reversal “hypercrisy”.

They argue, therefore, that people with power that they think is justified break rules not only because they can get away with it, but also because they feel at some intuitive level that they are entitled to take what they want. This sense of entitlement is crucial to understanding why people misbehave in high office. In its absence, abuses will be less likely.

So it seems a sense of humility will lead people to away from abusing power. While a sense of pride or arrogance will breed bad behaviour. That's probably worth keeping in mind when deciding who to hire or vote for. It's even more important to keep in mind when examining our own conscience.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pork Anyone Lately?

You should really watch this video - If only because it's Friday. It's great fun and might help you decide what to have for dinner.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Matching Donations an Ideal Response

The Canadaian government's decision to match individual donations to relief efforts in Haiti dollar for dollar is an ideal response to the disaster in Haiti. I heard about it in church yesterday and we'll be having a special collection next Sunday for the relief efforts.

We've all seen the images coming back from Haiti and it's clear it will take a very long time to clean up the mess. It's one thing for governments to make grand announcements about funding, and to provide immediate military support (both have their place) but nothing can replace the effect that dedicated volunteers can have especially when the agencies or ministries they are with are already active in the area. The government's announcement will ensure that the charities Canadians believe are doing the best work will get the funding they need.

If your debating giving to a relief effort consider the enormous bang for your buck. A $100 donation means the government will chip in $100, plus give you a tax refund of $40. As far as I'm concerned the decision of whether to give is easy, the questions are "how much?" and "which charity is in the best position to do the most good?"