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  • Mayukha A.R., MHS

A Reflection on Self-Absorption

Most people tend to spend their days in little orbits, circling around each other, walking the same steps, caught up in themselves, only jolted when something happens to break them out of their daily schedules. This raises a question that philosophists have been pondering for centuries: Are human beings too self-involved? While it has been proven that people can act for the good of an entire group and not just in their own interests, the research goes both ways.

Take the example from a study published in World Development, a peer-reviewed academic journal that showcases ways to improve standards of living in impoverished areas. In the study, people in rural Colombia were asked by researchers to play a game where they had to decide how much firewood to take from a forest. They were also told that deforestation would lead to poor water quality. The people were then split into groups. In one population, people were allowed to work within small teams to make their decisions, but were not allowed to interact with the other members. Another population was given specific instructions on how much firewood they could collect, but were not allowed to communicate at all, and the last group allowed all members to collaborate on their decisions.

When allowed to communicate, individuals set aside their own interests for the benefit of the group. However, individuals who were not allowed to communicate put personal interest first and gathered more firewood for themselves, demonstrating that people may engage in more self-involved behaviors when left to themselves.

But is self-centered behavior always the fault of the individual? Ever since childhood, humans are taught to be nice to other people. The reasoning behind this is simple: Being good to others will make them be good to you in return. In other words, you are rewarded for good behavior. While this tactic is effective when teaching children about appropriate behavior, other behaviors and actions influenced by incentives can signal that selfishness, or engaging in a behavior only for a reward, is a proper response. In reality, this can lead to a lack of individual self-determination and an environment where people adopt more self-interested methods.

It’s okay to be involved in yourself from time to time. It’s important even to push yourself to accomplish your goals and to reach an understanding of yourself. As with most things, though, self-absorption has to happen in moderation, or the impacts can be dire.

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