I’ve been reading “Give and Take” by Adam Grant. It’s main thesis is that by being a ‘giver’ in relationships — by helping other people as much as possible, without any expectation of your favours being returned in the near future — you end up being much more successful, in a wide variety of settings, in the long run. It’s interesting, well written, and informative. I’d recommend it.
It got me thinking about helping each other in the EA community. Grant is suggesting that we underestimate the value of helping others as a way of benefitting ourselves in the long run. If that’s true, then within the effective altruism community we probably radically underestimate the value of helping other EAs to be more successful.
The norms we are used to, and have internalised, govern situations where, in general (but by no means always), everyone is looking to benefit themselves. So you help other people in order that you can benefit yourself, and we should have expected the norms that we’ve internalised (like ‘tit for tat’) to be good norms for governing that sort of interaction. However, if you and I share the same values, the social situation is very different: if I help you achieve your aims, then that’s a success, in terms of achieving my aims too. Titting constitutes winning in and of itself — there’s no need for a tat in reward. For this reason, we should expect very different norms than we are used to be optimal: giving and helping others will be a good thing to do much more often than it would be if we were all self-interested.
I’ll end with an exhortation. One of the incredible strengths of the EA community is that we all share values and share the same end-goals. This gives us a remarkable potential for much more in-depth cooperation than is normal in businesses or other settings where people are out for themselves. So next time you talk to another effective altruist, ask them how you can help them achieve their aims. It can be a great way of achieving what you value.