What does the term “Human Behavior“ mean? We, the authors, describe it as follows:
“Human Behavior“ is a synonym for the entirety of human activity.
This includes aware, unaware, active as well as passive actions and reactions.
Human behavior always relates to a surrounding environment.
Every human being acts within and responds to his or her environment. It is not always obvious whether a human being acts out of personal motives or responds to events that happen in the environment. The line between “action” and “reaction” is blurred. The division of the human world in “individual” and “environment” or “action” and “reaction” is conceptual only. Classifying things and circumstances is a helpful (human) concept of describing the world around us. However, let’s keep in mind that “environment” and “individual” are not separate from each other. They are interconnected.
When discussing societal systems, which strive to expand everybody’s scope of liberty (→ Values), we, the authors, think that it is important to question cause and effect of different characteristics of human behavior.
The human individual in his or her environment
Let’s have a look at the interactions between the human being and its surrounding environment. Every individual exists within her or his particular individual environment. But what does “environment” mean?
There is a multitude of aspects constituting an individual’s environment. For example the physical environment: we are surrounded by different living entities like plants, animals and people as well as non-living entities like stones, furniture, buildings and technical equipment. We can see, hear, touch, taste or smell those things that make up our physical environment. Further, every individual is a part of a social environment which consists of individuals like friends, partners, family, and strangers that come across its path. The individual takes on different social roles within these various environments. Often we are embedded in organizational environments (e.g. families, teams and hierarchies) in which we take responsibility. Every individual is also surrounded by diverse world-views, values and attitudes towards life. These reflect in the behavior of fellow human beings and are perceptible through the content of conversations and the media, as also in historical documentation, music, film, art and generally the surrounding culture. Furthermore, there is a technological environment which consists of e.g. communication devices, machines (such as cars, computers and elevators), roads and supply systems as well as concepts of how to use all of these things. There are many other aspects you might identify to describe your particular environment. We, the authors, want to point out that we refer to EVERYTHING – physically, mentally, socially, spiritually and so on – surrounding us when talking about “environment”.
An individual is influenced by its environment in many different ways: climate conditions, water and food supply, fellow humans with different expectations, or laws to be obeyed. All environmental influences play a role in how we feel, what we think and how we consequently act. Our environment influences us.
The other way around, every individual also influences her or his environment in many different ways. For example, if I walk through the streets with a beaming smile on my face, I might have a positive impact on the people I come across. In contrast, if I walk through the streets with hate in my eyes I might have a different impact on people. In communication we might choose to suggest an idea or we choose to withhold it. We can influence the way technical devices and processes are developed. We can hand over the design of societal structures in our interest to other people, we can ourselves become societal designers or we completely refrain from the involvement in societal design. Every choice an individual makes influences her or his environment. In fact, every human being is constantly faced with choosing from options.
However, to what extent an individual can influence her or his environment strongly depends on one’s personal life situation. This includes for instance one’s health, one’s knowledge and skills, one’s social role and reputation and the surrounding societal systems. But in the end, the observation is the same: the behavior of every individual has an impact on how other individuals feel, what they are concerned with and how they act. Since the entirety of all individuals makes up society, the behavior of every individual influences what the societal systems are composed of and how they operate.
The interplay thus works in both directions: our environment influences us and we influence our environment.
How we become who we are
The timeline of influences
Throughout an individual’s life, the interactions with a multitude of aspects of his or her environment influence this individual. This interaction with the environment shapes the individual in its ways to interact with the environment. To depict the multitude of influences in their entirety is probably an impossible undertaking due to the topic’s diversity. In the following, we would like to present a descriptive overview of environmental influences that affect human individuals and thus their behavior. Firstly we would like to introduce a graphic on which we will than elaborate.
This is a time line of influences. At every point of an individual’s life, her or his behavior is a consequence of the interaction with all current and all past influences that ever affected this individual. The specific action and reaction patterns of any individual are the culmination of all the influences that the individual is facing throughout her or his life.
1 Genetics (species attributes and predispositions)
In the moment of conception, genes of the mother and the father unite and make up the blueprint of a new being. This blueprint is the individual’s genetic makeup – the genome. As every known species on Earth, every human being has a unique genetic makeup (except identical twins). Since genes are the blueprint of an individual’s biology, they also impact an individual’s characteristics. How intensely a human being experiences heat and cold, joy and anger, or wether she or he is more or less prone to a particular disease, partially depends on that individual’s genetic makeup. That is what is called predisposition: the genetic tendency to particular characteristics, conditions or traits.
There are specific attributes of the human species that are encoded in the genetic code and that all human beings have in common: Every human being lives a balance between activity and rest. We need to breath, eat and drink to supply our body with energy. Blood flows in our veins driven by the rhythm of our heart. Our hormonal balance – the balance of the system of signaling molecules in our body – continuously varies throughout our life and influences our metabolism, moods, emotions and cycles. Through complex mechanisms neuronal activity coordinates the various cells and thus organs in our body and their function. Our skin copes with sun light, wind, heat and cold. These and other species attributes make up the human organism’s foundation and hence create the biological conditions for the interaction with our environment. (A0)
Within an organism there are usually both active, as also inactive gene sequences. Only active gene sequences are implemented by the organism. Inactive sequences are not. The epigenetic mechanisms have influences over the activation and deactivations of certain gene sequences (A1). Whether gene sequences are activated or deactivated is dependent upon what environmental influences are impacting an individual. If environmental conditions change or the individual changes her or his way of living (e.g. food choices, attitudes, habits), this configuration might change. When it comes to conception, an individual’s epigenetic configuration is partly inherited by the next generation.
A popular example for the effects of epigenetic processes are the longterm studies with surviving individuals of the dutch hunger winter in 1944: Children who’s mothers suffered from malnutrition in a certain period of their pregnancy during this winter showed higher obesity rates. These effects were even partially present in the third generation. They were inherited.
3 Prenatal phase
The development of a human being begins within the mother’s womb. During the nine months of prenatal growth, the young human is dependent on the mother’s health. For example, the fetus’ growth and health are dependent on the quality of water and food the mother can access. The fetus’ growth and health are also influenced by the kind and quantities of medication, alcohol and drugs the mother consumes. Periods of disease and extraordinary stress that the mother experiences, additionally largely influence the fetus’ prenatal development. Finally, the exposure to sound and noise, toxins and radiation as well as the mother’s access to prenatal health care services are further influences.
All environmental conditions influence the fetus’ health and physique. They create first experiences which may manifest in characteristics and behavioral patterns far after this human being’s birth.
4 Food, water and other physical conditions
After birth, the young human faces a very different environment and has to get along in it. In order to optimally develop and thrive, the environment must satisfy the human organism’s needs for physical necessities like water, food, oxygen and sunlight.
The regular intake of water and food is a biological necessity of developing human beings. The human body is made up of more than 70% water. Water is the foundation for human body fluids and thus enables the transport of oxygen, nutrients and information carrying substances. Food provides the organism with nutrients like carbohydrates, fats, proteins and minerals. Such nutrients enable the human organism to grow and thrive. The quality of drinking water and food is a major contributing factor to an individual’s health, fitness and resistance to disease.
Unfortunately, there are conditions that can threaten the development of a human organism. Being (regularly) exposed to toxic chemicals as well as extreme noise, temperature or radiation, not only endangers the health but might even considerably disrupt an individual’s development.
In early developmental stages, a child is very open minded, unprejudiced and curious and thus receptive for information. For that reason a child is vulnerable. As a child lives through its first experiences it accepts many things as given. Hence, a child’s parents, family and generally the environment a child grows up in has a huge impact on this child’s personality. For example, it makes a difference if an environment is loud, hectic and stressful or if it is calm, relaxed and balanced. It makes a difference if a child’s family is responsive and tries to explain things or if people barely care while repeatedly dictating rules. It makes a difference if a child feels acknowledged and secure or if it feels lonely and misunderstood.
This is quite similar in later development phases. Now, it is friends, education systems and work environments that additionally influence the individual. Social relationships that develop range between cooperation and competition, between understanding and misunderstanding, between conflict and harmony, between empathy and ignorance.
Furthermore, societal movements, institutions, traditions and laws have their impact. The individual learns what is “important”, what is “necessary to achieve”, what is “allowed”, and what is “forbidden”. She or he learns how to behave in particular situations, who has what “privileges”, who is an “authority” and possibly why.
Thereby, behavior of an individual is also largely influenced by the scope of liberty that the currently established societal organizational structures allow. For example, different behavioral patterns develop if societal institutions exclude the individual from solution finding processes rather than integrating his or her understandings. Different behavioral patterns may also develop if societal organization leads to insufficient access to resources rather than providing knowledge, goods and support in abundance (→ Handling Resource Scarcity). Furthermore, different behavioral patterns may develop if an individual has possibilities for self-development through access to e.g. libraries, challenging tasks or skill training or if she or he does not have this access.
Spirituality – the search for meaning, inner peace, explanation, awareness, transcendence, contact to a higher order, etc. – performs remarkable influence on the behavior of many individuals. Spirituality is a multilayered, diversely defined term. Human beings explore astrology, different nature teachings, dream interpretation, mysticism, tarot, gods, energies, auras, presentiments, notions about the origin of humanity or afterlife, suggestions, epiphanies and many other forms of spirituality. Spiritual topics often have in common that they are more intuitive than tangible for the mind but have such a fascinating impact that they can enrich and inspire people.
7 Profound life experiences
Finally, it is the sometimes unforeseeable fortunate or tragic course of life itself that holds profound personal experiences (e.g. the sudden death of a family member, the unexpected reunion with a long forgotten friend, or the perfect opportunity popping up at the right time) which influence an individual and thus this individual’s behavior throughout her or his life.
Many of the exemplified influences can be described as environmental signals. These environmental signals trigger reactions within the individual’s organism. Such a reaction can be biochemical, neuronal, mental, physical or every other kind. Frequently, such a reaction is an interplay of many reaction types.
We all have senses with which we can grasp ourselves and signals from our environment. This is the beginning of the process called perception. However, perception is not only the act of our senses taking in signals. It is also the process of the individual’s organism categorizing and filtering these signals in order to make sense of them within the – from the individual’s point of view – meaningful overall image. In this way, along an individual’s development history, her or his attitudes, opinions and beliefs form. Consciously and subconsciously they constitute the basis of how we divide the signals we perceived in “important” or “unimportant”, “good” or “bad”, ”right” or “wrong”, “trustworthy” or ”suspicious”, ”normal” or ”strange” or other categories of differentiation.
Every individual experiences an individual constellation of influences throughout its life that impact the individual with a unique timing. Consequently, every individual has a very personal perception of their environment. Each individual perceives the same environmental signal differently and is therefore very likely to react very differently in similar environments and situations.
The perception of environmental signals is not only different for every individual, it can also change. Does an experience fit into the individual’s fabric of attitudes, opinions and beliefs, this fabric will be confirmed. Does it not fit, this may lead to irritation of the individual. Consciously and subconsciously the individual either tries to harmonize the experience with its attitudes, opinions and beliefs, to lay it aside as lack of understanding for the present, to ignore it or to change the fabric of attitudes, opinions and beliefs.
Hence, if we expose ourselves to new influences, we may gain new experiences. Through new experiences our attitudes, opinions and beliefs may change. These changes impact our division of the world in categories like “important” or “unimportant”, “good” or “bad”, ”right” or “wrong”, “trustworthy” or ”suspicious”, ”normal” or ”strange”. With our view on the world our perception changes.
Behavior: the product of influences
An individual’s predispositions coupled with this individual’s development history lead to the particular momentary physical and mental state that the individual is in. Neither our mental, nor our physical state is ever static. The various cycles, biological mechanisms, energetic flows and all the other aspects within our body, mind and entire organism are in continuous change and thus constantly bring forth new constellations of momentary physical and mental states. For example, due to changes in your hormonal balance you might go from feeling joyous to feeling frustrated from one moment to the other, even though your environment has not changed. Or, while pursuing your least favorite activity, suddenly a thought pops up that makes you feel lightweight and energetic.
However, an individual’s behavior is the direct consequence of this momentary physical and mental state seen within the context of the actual environmental circumstances in a particular moment. Hence, environmental influences not only shape an individual throughout her or his development history. They furthermore compose the circumstances this individual is confronted with at every moment. Consequently, it is fundamental to understand the impacts of environmental influences in order to comprehend the behavior of (groups of) individuals.
The individual’s perspective
Question: How does the interplay with the environment impact an individual’s behavior? Let’s have a look from the individual’s perspective:
Every human being pursues personal satisfaction. (→ Basic understandings)
Satisfaction is a pleasant state of mind. You feel good because you feel happy, comfortable, proud, safe, secure or anything alike. Satisfaction may also be reached when you feel comfortable with your life situation, despite or because of its difficulties. In contrast, a lack of satisfaction stirs unpleasant feelings.
Pursuing personal satisfaction – planned or spontaneously, patiently or euphorically, consciously or subconsciously – means pursuing the creation of situations and circumstances that induce this pleasant state of mind. We, the authors, think that every individual endeavors to realize personal satisfaction at every single moment within her or his existence. Thus, the most powerful drive in the shaping of an individual’s behavior appears to be the endeavor for personal satisfaction. We, human beings, always strive to keep our actual state or to reach a higher state of satisfaction. An individual’s behavior in any situation results from her or his experiences of how to achieve this.
Personal satisfaction can be accomplished by satisfying needs. The term “need” describes the yearning for a specific quality of life. Needs can be satisfied or unsatisfied. They are not concrete actions, they are independent from time and place, as also from other individuals. The range of human needs is incredibly vast and multifaceted. Just to name a few: there is the need for vitality, health, movement, rest, safety, security, stability, support, trust, warmth, closeness, harmony, happiness, connection, sexuality, love, appreciation, contact, exchange, empathy, acceptance, appreciation, participation, community, development, self-fulfillment, autonomy, meaning, and purpose. Beyond that there are many more needs a human being might long to satisfy.
Every action of an individual serves the satisfaction of this individual’s needs.
All actions and reactions of a human being are attempted strategies that can successfully, partly successful, or unsuccessfully contribute to the satisfaction of personal needs. They spring from the actual experience – the personal truth (→ Basic Understandings) – of the individual. The individual steadily develops, refines, or dismisses these strategies. This is done consciously, as well as subconsciously (→ The Scientific Method).
A particular action may thereby serve the satisfaction of more than one need. For instance, a small boy climbing a tree, may satisfy simultaneously his needs for adventure, exercise and attention.
Vice versa a single need can always be satisfied through more than one action. The small boy for example could satisfy his need for exercise playing football, table tennis, or swimming.
Different people apply different strategies in order to satisfy the same need. For instance the need for nearness: one person is seeking conversation, another one wants to watch movies together, and a third person may want to kiss and cuddle.
Some needs are more pressing, others are less pressing for an individual. Some people for instance satisfy their need for rest and relaxation before they (can) pursue the need for community and responsibility for others. For other people the reverse is the case: the needs for community and responsibility are of higher priority than for instance the needs for nutrition, rest or self-fulfillment. These priorities are not only different for every individual, they also constantly change. (B1)
The behavior – actions and reactions – of several individuals can stand in conflict. That does not mean that the needs of these individuals’ stand in conflict. It is exclusively the strategies chosen by the individuals to satisfy their needs which collide in case of a conflict. To achieve the goal of society (→ Values) it is thus helpful if individual’s are enabled to harmonize the satisfaction of their needs with another.
The higher the personal level of satisfaction,
the more likely an individual is able to harmonize the satisfaction of its needs
with the satisfaction of the needs of others.
The better an individual can satisfy her or his personal needs and the more thoroughly an individual’s personal satisfaction is constituted, the more likely it is that she or he is able to perceive the needs of others, to get in touch with these people and to reflect her or his own behavior. Thereby it is important that individuals are able to mutually communicate their needs. Only if individuals know the needs of another, they all can harmonize the satisfaction of their needs together.
The higher the level of personal satisfaction of single individuals,
– and the better their communication contributes to the joint awareness of their needs –
the more likely it is that the culture of their society is shaped by harmony and synergy.
That’s why supporting every single individual is essential in order to achieve the goal of society (→ Values). That is the case for the support at satisfying their personal needs, as also at the mutual communication about these.
What kind of environment would support an individual (or a group of individuals) in satisfying needs and thus in finding personal satisfaction?
Since every individual strives for personal satisfaction, an optimal environment would support every single individual as holistically as possible. In a supportive environment an individual who asks questions will receive answers or the support required to find them. An individual in need of drinking water will be provided with it or the means of attaining it. If an individual wants to follow an ambition, a supportive environment provides access to knowledge, skill trainings and contact to others with similar ambitions or useful expertise (→ Education). If several individuals want to make the exchange about their needs more pleasant, efficient or fulfilling, a supportive environment offers access to numerous helpful communication techniques. In case of conflict such an environment provides methods for establishing non-violent, solution-oriented communication in order to solve the current conflict and to prevent further conflict from arising (→ The Scientific Method).
Non-supportive and hostile environment
On the other hand, what kind of environment could hinder an individual (or a group of individuals) from satisfying needs aimed at achieving personal satisfaction?
A non-supportive environment does not provide sufficient support, care, and advice. For a single individual it is therefore harder to strive for the satisfaction of her or his personal needs. In a hostile environment an individual is denied support. In extreme cases, an individual might even be abused.
An individual asking a question in a non-supportive environment does not receive an answer, and won’t be understood or heard. A hostile environment even responds with condemnation violation, and punishment. If an individual is in the need for drinkable water, it has to figure out ways to do that on its own. It could even be faced with active blockades from its surrounding that hinder it from attaining any drinkable water or the means of attaining it. If an individual wants to realize a goal it has to acquire knowledge and skills on its own without any aid. Contact to other people is difficult or even impossible. The resolution of conflicts is not supported. In a hostile environment conflicts are even stoked. The responsibility is thereby attributed to the individual which sees her or himself left alone with feelings of guilt and shame.
Supportive vs. Hostile Environment
In a supportive environment an individual may achieve personal satisfaction much more efficiently than in a non-supportive environment. The more possibilities an individual has at hand for attaining personal goals, the more likely this individual is to achieve them and the less reasons she or he has for expressing destructive behavior. Equipped with all kinds of means and methods the individual might be enabled to easily coordinate personal ambitions in harmony with her or his environment. The feeling or the awareness to live in a supportive environment fosters trust in this environment. This trust can lead to behavior which cares for and supports this environment: “I can satisfy my needs more thoroughly through the experience, the knowledge and the skills of my fellow humans as well as existing societal structures and forms of organization – rather than without those”.
In contrast, within a hostile environment an individual feels a lack of support and in return is discouraged – or simply not able – to care about harmonizing her or his endeavors with the surrounding environment. A lack of support, mistreatment or abuse might provoke feelings of anxiety, anger, frustration, helplessness, despair, or aggression within the individual. If such feelings stay unnoticed or ignored by the individual’s environment they can lead to behavior which hinders or harms other individuals, or disturb, damage or destroy societal structures and processes. Such sentiments are provoked in environments in which barriers, walls, rules, laws or people permanently hinder the satisfaction of the individual’s needs. This additionally means that an individual which does not feel welcomed, supported or which even feels excluded possibly is only poorly motivated but also does not see possibilities to contribute to societal development. This in turn means that all other individuals won’t benefit from the developments this individual might have initiated. (→ Values).
How individuals interact with their environment
There are, generally speaking, two major ways of how human beings get along within their environment. Both of these ways are applied consciously, as well as subconsciously. The first option is to adapt to the environment. In this case, an individual adjusts her or his mentality, their strategies for satisfying needs, their physiology and thus their behavioral patterns to surrounding circumstances. The second option that human beings have to get by in their environment, is to change and shape the environment to fit their needs.
We humans constantly use both ways of getting along in our environment. We use a mixture of adapting to the circumstances of our surrounding and shaping them. We choose one or the other option – or we find a way in between – based on our experiences in order to decide about what way benefits us most.
An individual or a group of individuals should take care not to shape their environments in ways that create hostile environments for others. That is because an individual adapting to a hostile environment may develop behavior that in turn is hostile to others.
Main article – Societal change
From hostile to supportive environments
Consequently, with respect to the goal of society (→ Values), it is necessary to avoid creating circumstances that provoke harmful behavior. That is why societal change should be about turning existing non-supportive or even hostile environments into supportive environments in which every human being is enabled to pursue satisfaction as freely and easily as possible.
And here the societal systems come into play: societal structures should be designed to serve human needs in order to create satisfaction. They should thus be designed to create supportive environments for all individuals. Societal structures should constantly adapt to changing constellations of needs rather than forcing individuals – due to the rigidity of these structures – to step into conflict with the systems.
The process of developing societal structures that can respond to the current needs of all individuals – applying current knowledge and technology purposefully – is what we call “Needs-Based Design”. In summary, the Needs-Based Design of societal systems has to lead to a culture of societal exchange and learning, so that the mutual awareness of our needs raises. This culture would constitute the basis for the development of suitable structures and forms of organizations (→ The Scientific Method) to achieve the goal of society. Designing societal systems on the basis of our needs would enable every individual to grow and unfold and thus strengthen and expand the capacity for mutual care within society.
In order to successfully implement the concept of Needs-Based Design it takes technology (methods and tools) that enables us to grasp and process the complexity of societal interrelations, problems and conflicts (→ Technology). For instance, it is essential for societal institutions and representatives to have insight into the needs of the people they represent. Therefore, the establishment of demand overview systems would be of enormous significance as a guide line (→ Handling Ressource Scarcity). These systems would allow individuals to communicate which of their needs are currently unsatisfied or which resources they require. With the vast information gathered, interdisciplinary societal design teams (anthropologists, sociologists, biologists, psychologist, planners and organizers, architects, engineers, physicians, technicians, pedagogues, coordinators, conflict consultants, etc.) could create mechanisms that enable the coordination of the satisfaction of all individuals’ needs. The design process should thereby include all affected and interested individuals as far as possible. In the best case, these teams would consist of those individuals that later on would use these structures.
On an individual level, Needs-Based Design means:
- questioning ones desires in order to fathom the true needs standing behind each desire
- pursuing the satisfaction of one’s own needs
- realizing where one’s approach to satisfy personal needs stands in conflict with other individuals’ approach to satisfy their needs
- communicating empathically and non-violently to enable the satisfaction of the need of everyone involved
- being open for the vastness of possibilities and potential alternatives that are at hand or can be developed
If individuals are able to distinctly identify their own needs and are able to express them in ways that others may understand, conflicts are very unlikely to escalate. Revealing the needs of the involved individuals is an essential foundation to successfully resolve conflict. Dealing with these conflicts then does not need to be an emotional confrontation but can rather constitute a joint solution process that is based on the foundation of the disclosed needs. Confrontations in which the true needs of the involved individuals stay hidden behind accusations and justifications can be tiring and (emotionally) exhausting. If those confrontations stay out through resolving conflicts needs-based, the stress level reduces which leaves room for the pursue of personal satisfaction.
We human beings need flexible societal systems that can optimally fulfill their purpose: to coordinate the satisfaction of needs (→ Handling Resource Scarcity).
Every single individual is part of the environment of everybody else. If it is important to you to contribute to getting closer to the goal of society (→ Values), it is your responsibility to not constitute a hostile environment for others. You are in charge of being heedful towards your environment in order to be able to recognize if your strategies to satisfy your needs and thus behavioral patterns may eventually hurt others. From the moment of awareness about your behavior, it is your responsibility to use your entire scope of liberty to solve arising conflict within yourself or between you and others. Use your possibilities to get in touch with your fellow humans and conflict partners. You are jointly responsible to not create circumstances that require you or others to apply behavioral patterns which harm, damage or hurt yourself or other individuals.
–– A comparison to our contemporary society (2016) —
Non-supportive environments in our contemporary society
In our contemporary society there are many circumstances that contribute to the creation of non-supportive and hostile environments. In the following there are some examples of those circumstances:
- war and environmental pollution make many parts of the world dangerous places
- many children all over the world grow up in environments that are physically and mentally stressful and even dangerous
- education systems as well as working environments are rarely adapted to individual human interests and needs (e.g. too big classes, lack of individually supporting learning opportunities, too few self-development possibilities, compulsory attendance)
- the ratio of personal tasks and time for rest is mostly directed by others
- no or too few influence in solution finding processes and decisions
- fear and control dominate trust
- isolation and suppression of minorities
These circumstances can have a variety of different impacts on an individual. It is not uncommon that individuals within the contemporary global society feel
- that “leaders” and governments do not openly communicate or deliberately misinform the people
- that today’s politics and economy do not seek peace on earth and ecologic harmony
- stressed and overburdened
- ignored, abused and threatened by local, regional, national or global political and economic systems
- excluded from society
- that some of the people surrounding them do not notice, listen to, acknowledge or understand them
Non-supportive and hostile environments make people want to withdraw themselves from, or fight against such environments. Examples of that are separation and disputes within families, friendships, partnerships or employment. In a larger societal frame this is reflected in a lot of organized protests, strikes, and boycotts. Riots, assaults, rampage and terrorism are some of the most extreme forms of the fight against hostile environments. Those societal symptoms are NOT consequence of a natural drive of “evil” people and cultures to harm and destroy others. These societal symptoms occur if (groups of) individuals are exposed to non-supportive and hostile environments. Today, most of the non-supportive or hostile environments are caused by the consequences of the competition for ressources.
Throughout human history, there were periods in which scarcity was a predominant experience for many individuals. The products that people produced were therefore very precious to them. People developed methods to offer their goods and services to others, trying to gain access to different goods and services in return in order to satisfy their needs.
If goods or services are offered in amounts that exceed demand, it becomes difficult to barter or sell them. Thus, multiple parties that offer the same good or service step into competition with each other. And that’s exactly what happened.
In today’s society, we see competition on many levels. It is common for us to stand in competition with each other. There is a competition amongst individuals, amongst companies and even countries compete with each other in the race for resources. Those who aren’t able to keep up with their competitors may get little or no access to resources. Therefore, many people are filled with fear of losing their established status. From these reasons, politicians domestically tent to compete, rather than cooperate with each other. All these circumstances impede our arrival at sustainable, holistic solutions through cooperation and constitute a big obstacle for achieving the goal of society (→ Values).
Furthermore, there are other very destructive attributes that may accompany competition. For example, competition often goes hand in hand with not allowing others to use information or ideas that could create an advantage for one’s competitors. That is beautifully seen in the patent system. People need information and ideas, but for many it is often not affordable to gain access to those. Even worse: competition mostly goes along with hiding information from one another so that “my (financial) advantage stays my advantage only”. But that also means that “my ideas” cannot be taken to the next level by somebody else. Consequently, an incredible amount of innovation and problem solving that could happen in this world doesn’t happen because information and ideas and concepts aren’t extensively shared.
The competition driven urge to be faster and cheaper at what we do, leads to new norms that push us to become even faster and cheaper. In order to save money, employers employ less people, but expect them to do more work. This leads to less people having a paid job which consequences enormous tension within our current global society: people with a paid job often have little time to tackle huge workloads while people without a paid job have the stress to get by with little or no income. On top of that they are often accompanied by the sentiment to not be able or allowed to contribute.
Additionally, competition can, and often does, foster corruption. One needs to have a very strong character to not try to “work around the rules” in order to have some kind of advantage. There is always temptation to “foul play” in order to be slightly ahead of your competitor. No matter how many rules and regulations against it a society legislates: there is always the incentive to trick, or manipulate the “game” a little to one’s advantage.
Competition is the opposite of cooperation. Competition can create an atmosphere wherein competitors envy another and wish each other bad luck in their endeavors. Where cooperation fosters information sharing and synergistic problem solving, competition provokes withholding and manipulation of information, dogmatism and corruption. Therefore, competition often induces mistrust. Mistrust does neither allow open minded communication nor a free flow of information as a fertile basis for exchange between individuals. However, only a free flow of information coupled with sustainable access to goods and services would enable the establishment of societal systems that assist all individuals in the achievement of their goals optimally (→ Handling Resource Scarcity).
Some of the above mentioned traits can, of course, also be found outside realms of competition. Nevertheless, competition provides an extra set of incentives that guide individuals towards expressing the above mentioned behavioral patterns.
As long as competition is friendly based (e.g. in sports) and not connected to serious consequences, it can be very constructive. However, the moment that it comes to accessing resources that satisfy needs (e.g. money, food, shelter, transport and the like) competition can have very destructive effects.
In most of the current societal systems people are motivated to get things done through systematically applying external incentives attached to conditions. Extrinsic motivation is the drive to do something in order to receive some kind of promised reward or avoid some kind of threatened punishment. If you are good, fast or smart enough, then you get something. If you are not so good at doing stuff, then you get less or nothing, or you even get punished for not being good enough. Such incentives are contingent.
For instance, you work a job in order to get access to resources (e.g. money, housing, food, credit, etc.). If you’re not fierce enough at your job you won’t get the promotion and thus no reward: you won’t be able to live in a house you love to live in, or to buy the food that you want to eat. Or maybe you’ll even perceive it as some kind of silent punishment.
Grades in school that decide upon the continuation of an individual’s education and the associated pressure to perform, as also punishments like being fined or imprisoned are examples of contingent incentives.
What kind of problems accompany the extensive use of such incentives?
Contingent external rewards (“If you do this, then you’ll get that.”-rewards), by their very nature, narrow our focus and concentrate our mind on a specific task. Therefore, concerning complex tasks and problem solving, extrinsic incentives tend to prove little effective, and even counterproductive. Solving complex problems – like those the global society is confronted with – requires attention, vision, patience, creativity, thoroughness as well as a fine grasp of details and interconnections. In order to profoundly and holistically understand an even slightly complex problem, an individual needs to be at ease. The brain must be able to intake a broad spectrum of information in a relaxed manner in order to process it efficiently (C1). Yet, if individuals are mainly motivated by contingent external incentives, they tend to concentrate on attaining the promised reward rather than entirely devoting their attention to holistically sustainable solving a problem .
This applies also to long term thinking. External rewards can focus the mind on the reward at hand rather than on what’s off in the distant future. Therefore external incentives often undermine the ability to foresee problems and conflicts. Hence, short-term thinking due to focusing on external incentives can inhibit the development of long-term solutions .
Extrinsic rewards offered for a task have the tendency to make the extrinsically motivated individual expect the same kind of reward when a similar task is faced. That compels the rewarding individual to offer rewards over and over again. Furthermore, over time offered rewards may become standard to the rewarded individual. That means that the incentive offered to the individual may not suffice any more to motivate her or him. Hence, the rewarding individual is obliged to regularly increase the reward in order to get similar results . If the reward is not continuously increased, the motivation of the rewarded individual might steadily decline. Consequently, extrinsically motivated individuals might become addicted to external rewards. In the absence of external incentives it may be observed that the incentiviced individuals stop to pursue extrinsically motivated tasks. Thereupon, they are often rumored to be “inactive” or “lazy”. Due to the systematic use of external incentives, “laziness” appears as a big topic within many contemporary political discussions.
Already in early age, most education systems teach us the importance of rewards and punishments. Many of us seek to attain good marks in order to comply with societal expectations rather than attaining them as a result of their interest in the subject. Later in the societal education process, we tend to choose disciplines that promise a decent income rather than those that feed our passions and interests. Finally, advancements concerning our “career” – and money – become the main motivation to accomplish things.
Intrinsic motivation means pursuing something that interests you, that awakens your curiosity, something that inspires or challenges you. You do something without expecting any external reward in return since the task itself or its outcomes please you directly.
Intrinsic motivation involves the following three characteristics:
- Autonomy – the urge to direct your own life, to decide yourself what you want and what you do not want to do
- Mastery – the desire to get better and better at something
- Purpose – the yearning to do what you do in the service of something of importance
We all want to do something that matters. And we want to decide ourselves what to do. Purpose coupled with autonomy usually enables us to always improve at what we decide to do. Furthermore, people also do things exclusively for the joy of mastery.
It is usually at least one of these three characteristics that is present in a task that holds your interest. For instance, if you enjoy painting, it is very likely that you would like to decide yourself what to paint and how to paint it (Autonomy). Or if you train in order to participate in your favorite sports game you might develop a strong will to master your discipline (Mastery). Or your interest in developing airplane propulsion systems may be fueled by your desire to make transport more simple, safe, convenient or more eco-friendly (Purpose).
Intrinsic motivation enables us to stick to a subject or problem that is hard to understand. It helps us to creatively solve problems, boosting our energy to dig into a subject, getting better and better at understanding it. Therefore, this kind of motivation helps us to arrive at solutions, even in nowadays “external-incentive-driven” world. 
There is a wide array of tasks that can be described as purely intrinsically motivated. In contrast, extrinsically motivated tasks always have a portion of intrinsic motivation to them; even if that portion purely consists of the individual’s instinct of self preservation. However, in order to achieve an intrinsically motivated goal, individuals often pursue multiple tasks that pave the way to this goal.
For example: you want to become a scientific researcher for natural cancer remedies. The vision of pursuing this occupation in the future fills you with joy because it will satisfy your needs for purpose, progress and connectivity to nature. Unfortunately, a semester at University is mad expensive. In order to pay the fees, you most probably have to earn money. Say, you work in a post office for little money. It’s a stressful job. You do your best every single day. Over the years you manage to build up some savings, but it’s just not enough to pay the fees for your desired studies. In order to get a promotion in your current job, you firstly have to invest into further education. This makes you spend parts of your savings for further education. After five years you are promoted to be department chief. Now, everyone expects you to be available at any time. How long can you keep at following your dream?
The more tasks and barriers there are between you and your goal the more you might feel a decrease of intrinsic motivation. As long as progress towards the achievement of the root intention is experienced, you may have a sense of accomplishment. However, if there are too many tasks and barriers between you and the achievement of your goal, you might lose sight of your goal.
Losing sight of your goals could be seen as “disconnection” from oneself since you lost your emotional relation to your needs. The main reason for “disconnection” is the constant race for making a living within societal systems that apply extrinsic incentives and make us compete with another. Within these systems we often have to pursue tasks which we would not pursue out of intrinsic motivation.
Disconnection from oneself
As mentioned above, due to the pressure of keeping and improving one’s societal status, many of us are losing sight of – or never discovered – some of their personal needs. We tend to lose the emotional relation to ourselves, our environment and to the activities we are occupied with. Focusing our attention on rewards (e.g. wages, interest rates, dividends and discounts) and on judging other people’s lives and opinions, we separate more and more from our sense for our own and our beloved’ needs. This disconnection deters us from recognizing our intrinsic motivated goals. We tend to lose interest for the quality of the tasks we pursue since we mainly come to work to get the money. We merely function rather than experiencing our activities with all our senses. We wear masks and lack authenticity pretending to be fine and happy. Our superficial happiness is nourished by material status symbols and trendy gimmicks that enclose us. We tend to thoughtlessly repeat what we hear from politicians, celebrities or religious leaders rather than developing our own understandings and perspectives. All that makes it almost impossible to truly pursue personal satisfaction.
Power in the hands of a few
Disconnection creates a tendency in us to simply follow others’ ideas without reflecting on those. That makes one susceptible for manipulation. Thus, we can often see that only a few individuals within society shape societal structures at their will. This circumstance furthermore gives rise to the opportunity of those few people to control the flow of resources. This concentrates power and resource access in the hands of a few creating oligopolies and monopolies. That is seen in the increase of the gap between super rich and poor, or in the assimilation of companies by huge enterprise groups.
If having power over (the resources of) others becomes normality for an individual or a group of individuals, they get used to using this power to satisfy their personal needs. This can be a dangerous situation, because consequently, those individuals may tend to cling to their status of power over others. If individuals with power over others fear to lose their power, they might strive to restrict the scope of liberty of these other individuals. This impedes the achievement of the goal of society (→ Values).
We are living in societal systems which allow (groups of) individuals to have power over others and their access to resources. We need to recover our emotional connection to ourselves, our personal needs and our environment. Only then are we able to develop our own ideas and concepts of how societal systems should be to enable the satisfaction of our needs. Not to do that leaves us at a lack of vision which results in inactivity concerning societal development. This inactivity is a silent approval of the existing societal systems and the circumstance that some have power over a lot of others.
Inefficient performance of the contemporary societal systems
Societal systems that do not support and guide individuals in discovering and unfolding their intrinsic motivation create a serious gap within society: If people are mainly motivated through extrinsic incentives, they might learn and work in a profession they would have never come to without these extrinsic incentives. If they are not mainly intrinsically motivated to pursue their professions, the emotional connection to their activities tends to be very little. Consequently, many people in society aren’t very passionate about what they are doing for a living. They do not feel “happy” in their job. In contrast, there are many people who are interested in and would love to start working on these very same tasks, but they cannot. Firstly, because others hold these positions. Secondly, because they probably feel like they have to face huge societal barriers if they want to change their life situation from one profession to another.
For many of us it is very difficult to change an established educational direction or a profession nowadays. Those changes (like changing your field of studies or creating your own business) are mostly connected to overcoming huge societal obstacles. Many of us didn’t learn how to examine their personal situation and how to discover their possibilities. Furthermore, many people experience a lack of access to societal support. Thus, thinking about changing one’s own path leaves too many uncertain factors. It often is not possible to try out new educational directions and professions without having to fear negative (e.g. existential) repercussions. Consequently, many of us are discouraged to change anything about their path and even cease to think about it.
Summed up, the contemporary societal systems are not as effective and as efficient as they could be in getting tasks done that are necessary to create and sustain a healthy society. They fail to optimally situate people in convenient positions, functions or jobs.
Apathy – Inactivity and laziness
As already mentioned, most of the contemporary education systems systematically train children to follow extrinsic incentives. They use incentives like rewards and punishments and often prohibit “romping about”, playing, or “fooling around”. Generally speaking, contemporary education systems inhibit the drive to follow one’s own interests and force children to focus on the compulsory subjects.
As stated above, extrinsic incentives can be addictive. After years of systematically diminishing intrinsic motivation through educational systems that apply extrinsic incentives on a large scale, those incentives need to be continuously provided in order to keep the individual motivated in its activity or profession. Since many people do not recognize this cause, they arrive at conclusions like “People are lazy by nature!”. People aren’t lazy by nature. The contemporary education systems – shaped by the economic pressure of competition – create the addiction to extrinsic incentives for many members of society .
Education systems should not tend to train individual’s exclusively for the requirements of competition oriented societal systems. Education systems, family members, friends and society as a whole should rather foster the discovery, the unfolding, and the pursuit of satisfaction of personal needs, interests and goals. We need to equip this world’s individuals with the necessary knowledge, skills and tools that enable them to pursue the satisfaction of their needs (→ Education). That circumstance could foster the transition towards societal systems that work for everyone as much as possible.
The bad image of egoism
Nowadays, when people talk about “egoism” or “being egoistic”, they often mean it in a negative way. However, everything we do is based on egoistic motives: we do things that serve our physical existence, our well-being, our self-esteem, our conscience or our sense of necessity. Every action of every individual has – consciously or subconsciously – self-serving motives at its core. You, your mind and your body always try to do what seems right, based on your personal truth (→ Basic Understandings). That means that it’s inevitable for you to do things for your own benefit. There is nothing wrong with acting consciously self-beneficiary.
If people criticize the egoism of an individual, the criticism is not about the entailing self-benefit. The criticism rather relates to the disadvantage of others that accompanies the “egoistic” actions.
Hindering the realization of others’ ambitions by carelessly realizing a personal goal, gives rise to conflicts. Being hindered at realizing ones ambitions creates dissatisfaction and may strain the relations amongst individuals. That may lead to tension amongst individuals. And those tensions may intensify the conflict for all parties and thus cause problems for everybody involved.
Therefore it is important to organize “my benefit” or “my advantage” in ways that do not bring any disadvantage to others. Consequently, the realization of personal goals should harmonize as much as possible with the intentions of others. If that is considered, then it can be the case that “my benefit” even enables the others to benefit as well instead of hindering them (→ Values). This means: As long as no one suffers a disadvantage from your actions, be as self-beneficiary as you like.
The major task for societal organization should be to coordinate the different endeavors and interests of individuals (→ The Scientific Method). That could prevent collision of interests and solve arising conflict. The old notion of having altruistic good people on one hand and egoistic bad people on the other is outdated.
Handling of destructive behavioral patterns
The global society applies multiple methods of handling individuals who express behavior that is considered inappropriate. However, it appears that the main focus of handling undesired behavioral patterns is the application of methods of punishment. The various forms of punishment include fines, prohibitions, limitation of physical liberty up to torture and death. Punishment thereby shall lead to four effects: firstly, it shall force the individual to change her or his behavior. Secondly, the punishment shall prevent others from taking the same or a similar action in the future. Thirdly, the punished individual may be isolated from the rest of society so that others will not be bothered or harmed. Lastly, punishment is supposed to soothe the predominant “sense of justice” of a society.
The contemporary global society seems not aware enough of the interrelation between an individual’s behavior and this individual’s particular environment. Every individual is born into and grows up in a particular environment. Instead of only looking for reasons for the expression of destructive behavior in the individual’s personality, it is as important to look for reasons of the development of destructive behavior in the individual’s environment and development history. Investigations should answer the following questions:
- What circumstances drove the individual towards expressing the exhibited behavior in order to satisfy what needs?
- In which ways can society assist the individual in comprehending why this particular behavior is considered destructive?
- How can society in cooperation with the individual develop possibilities which enable the individual to satisfy her or his needs without disturbing or harming anyone?
- How can society adjust the societal systems in order to help individuals in similar situations to satisfy their needs without the need for destructive or harmful behavior?
In everybody’s interest, investigations of every kind of “crime” should reveal which circumstances were crucial in leading an individual or a group of individuals to act in destructive ways. Society’s focus should not be on punishing undesirable behavioral patterns but rather on creating environments that support the individual and render the expression of destructive behavior as far as possible unnecessary.
All the small, big and partly inconceivable acts of violence that we humans inflict upon another, are symptoms of our current culture of dominance. A majority of us seem unaware as to how violence within society develops, how it is passed on from individual to individual and how it ultimately culminates in assault, torture, murder or war. The global society should accompany victims and their relatives in their pain, anger, and sadness and provide them the support they might need.
Ecosystems for sale
As mentioned in the main part of this article, the human organism requires the regular intake of clean air, nutritious water, and nutritious food, sufficient portions of sunlight and many other forms of substances and energy. Additionally, a safe and secure environment gives time and space for the discovery of things and interconnections in our world. Safe and secure environments enable learning, experimenting, planning and enjoying a peaceful life without being thrown off course by stressful events.
However, it appears that humanity is continuously endangering the future stability of those environments. Raw materials are exploited everywhere on the planet on a scale the global society has never seen before. The global society tries to cling to the fossil-fuel age by pressing every drop of oil out of tar sands (e.g. in Canada) or by using high-risk fracking methods for gas extraction. There is some progress in the development of renewable energy systems but the majority of energy generating systems keep hold of the usage of coal, oil and, uranium. Burning coal radically downgrades air quality (as to see in China). The mining, transport and usage of uranium in order to use it in nuclear power plants exposes many people to elevated levels of radiation and creates high risks of severe nuclear accidents. By excessively burning fossil fuels we might have accelerated or even caused global warming. The climate of our one and only home planet changes. The global society observes the melting of the polar ice caps, the rise of sea levels, a higher rate of storms, warmer seasons, and, in general, the rise of weather extremes.
Furthermore, biodiversity suffers great losses due to monoculture farming and the intense application of pesticides. The population of pollenizing insects – like bees for instance – is diminishing. Due to the same reasons and due to over-fertilization, the planet’s quality of soil downgrades. Virgin forests get cleared for cheap wood and for establishing free space for agriculture. The industry uses toxic chemicals in products and production processes in ways that threaten the health of all beings and pollute the water sources around the production sites. Worldwide, there is a lot of exploitation of natural water reservoirs. Additionally, we threaten our marine food supply by exploiting the world’s fishing grounds and by polluting the oceans with plastics. The industrial use of biochemical substances (e.g. hormones) leads to an accumulation of those substances in soil and water. Through the intake with food or water such substances may wrongly trigger biochemical processes within an organism which naturally are only triggered by hormones occurring in the organism itself. Such artificially induced reactions put the organism under stress and can dramatically impact health and development.
Reducing the planet’s ecological richness and exploiting finite resources will most probably intensify resource scarcity on a global scale. This might create far more unforeseeable conflicts than we are currently facing, provoking us human beings to aggravate our race over scarce resources. Solely concentrating on structural incentives like monetary profits or misleading prosperity indicators (e.g. the GDP) obviously leads to destructive and harmful behavior.
Our competition driven, profit-oriented economic systems waste our resources and thus reduce our flexibility to shape our life on this planet. Now is the time to steer into a new direction of societal development. We need to bring forth societal systems that structurally enhance sustainability, individual health, and vitalizing environments, instead of promoting financial gain as the only goal.
Living up to values and rules
If society gives itself rules, each rule should be communicated to every individual in ways that enable everyone to comprehend the reasons for this rule and the rule itself. On this basis everybody might be enabled to apply these rules so that they become established within society.
If a group of individuals – a society – expects their members to respect societal values (e.g. listening to each other) and consequently expects them to adapt their behavior, it is highly important that these values are tangible in this society. In their everyday life, individuals should experience the values they are expected to live by. For example, if teachers want their students to respect each other, they themselves should respect their students, their students’ parents, and each other. If politicians rail against corruption, they should not abuse their positions to gain economic advantage. Countries that underline their will for global peace should stop to provoke violence and war in any kind of way.
Punishments and rewards are not the optimal instruments for establishing moral values. If the values desired by society are lived by in this society, all individuals of this society automatically experience these values as part of their life. Nowadays, it may be a necessity to actively instill these values into individuals. This may be the case, because most of the values that our society officially admires (e.g.. “Protect the environment.”, “Respect your fellow men.”, or “Help others without demanding something in return.”) are totally insufficiently applied in politics, economics and other societal levels of organization. We need to integrate these values into the structures of our societal systems instead of trying to establish them as counterbalance to the very fabric of our societal systems.
In order to not provoke the expression of destructive and harmful behavior, the global society needs to change hostile environments into supportive ones. That also entails identifying and removing those characteristics of societal systems that propagate exploitation, pollution, abuse, violence and other destructive actions. We need to aim for creating societal systems that allow people to pursue their goals in accordance with the needs of all other individuals and the ecosystem surrounding them. On every societal level (politics, economics, families, etc.), people should be enabled and encouraged to act as cooperative and supportive as possible. However, this goal of society (→ Values) might only be achieved in an “Abundance Creating Economy” rather than in a “Scarcity Managing Economy” (→ Handling Resource Scarcity).
— Myths and Opinions —
In our lectures and conversations about society, we established a collection of Myths and Opinions that have crossed our way most frequently. Some of these statements are widely spread amongst the people in this world. We would like to give you some thought provoking impulses concerning some of the Myths and Opinions of our collection.
“There are good people and there are bad people,
and the good people need to be protected from the bad people.”
“Good” and “bad” are attributes that are always tied to a particular context. What appears to be good for one, may be bad or inappropriate for another. When looking at behavior of individuals that may be called “bad” or “immoral”, there are always reasons to be found as to why they behave that way. “Good” as well as “bad” behavior can be traced back to pursuing the satisfaction of one’s needs. People usually do not do bad things just for the sake of being bad.
Many people are so busy pursuing their goals, that they overlook the bad repercussions that their actions (or inactions) have for other people. In other cases rigid perspectives and hardened convictions like “This can’t work any other way!” prevent people from thoroughly examining conflicts and from developing solutions. Those people often struggle to really examine alternatives.
For some people the alternative approaches that they know of may not constitute adequate options in order for them to satisfy their needs effectively. “Bad” behavior is thus a consequence of the circumstances surrounding the individual and not inherently a sign for the “bad” nature of a human.
Other people truly do not care how their behavior affects others. Often the cause for such an attitude may be found in their development history. It may be the case that they repeatedly experienced that their societal environment doesn’t care about their needs. Hence they made it a habit not to care about the needs of others. “Bad” behavior is thus not only a consequence of momentary circumstances, but also a consequence of those circumstances that influenced the development of an individual. Therefore, society should look after every individual at every point in time, if she or he needs support.
In extreme cases people even see an important reason for doing “bad things” to others. They feel like their cause is so important, it justifies harming others. Or they think that “bad” people deserve to have bad things done unto them. This conviction is often portrayed by people when they fall prey to the simplified belief that there are “good” and “bad” people in this world. They themselves thereby always belong to the “good” people.
It is very destructive and dangerous to label (groups of) individuals as “good” or “bad”. If one wants to understand other people’s motives better than it is much more helpful to inquire the needs behind an action, tradition, or way of thinking. Empathic contact to these (groups of) individuals might be the best way to inquire those. In conflict situations the focus should thereby not be on the behavior of others, but rather be put on ones own behavior.
Within the global society, we don’t need more control over each other, shielding “good” from “bad” people! What we need is a much better coordination of our different interests (→ The Scientific Method). Such coordination would render it unnecessary to harm others in order to achieve goals. The ability to satisfy one’s needs in a non-violent, empathic, and cooperative way, without harming others, is learnable. However that only works really well in environments that are supporting individuals in attaining the goals of their desire.
“Haters gonna hate!”
Not necessarily. People can and do change. There may be lots of effort involved, but it is possible. People can (and will) also show you a totally different side of themselves according to how YOU approach them.
However, the achievement of satisfaction of an individual’s needs should not even be dependent upon the good will of others. An individual may not see any need to struggle for being respected by “haters”, if that individual can independently satisfy her or his needs. Individuals need to be enabled to step out of the circle of people that envy and hate on them, without negative repercussions. Furthermore if societal conditions change in ways that make it unnecessary and worthwhile to be a “hater”, or in ways that do not encourage hate, “haters” might not even stay “haters”.
“People often show aggressive behavior, because of their genetic predispositions.
That is because genes are determining the physical characteristics and
the chemical metabolism of the individual and thus their emotions.”
Human behavior is influenced by many factors. It cannot be solely reduced to the genetic predispositions of an individual. For instance: A person with a predisposition to feel anger very intensely will deal with that anger differently living in a very peaceful, supportive environment than she or he would living in a very humiliating, aggressive environment. Possibly the feeling of intense anger and aggression would not even be triggered, since the environment does not provide any corespondent stimuli. The expression of any type of behavior is always connected to a particular environment that provides particular stimuli.
Societal systems are part of every individual’s environment. If we have the impression that people are inherently aggressive then that might be due to flaws in the very structure of our societal systems. (We mention many shortcomings of the current societal systems in all the comparison sections of the main articles of this blog.) To be confronted with the shortcomings of our societal systems in their everyday life, may subliminally frustrate people and thereby create a sensation of constant petulance. Such a condition can be misinterpreted as people being “naturally aggressive”. However, this condition should rather be understood as a consequence of societal systems that do not operate in accordance with the needs of the people.
The emergence of aggression is thus influenced by many factors and is not solely provoked by genetic predispositions. We should design our societal systems in ways that help to prevent conflict, frustration and aggression from arising and help resolving them.
“Humans get lazy if they are provided everything.
It is important that many people within society are productive.”
Let’s start with the first part of this and have a look at the definition of Laziness:
Laziness in terms of “physically and mentally not doing anything” does not exist. We always breathe, digest or metabolize. We always think or actively try to calm our thoughts (for instance in meditation). That means that “being lazy” always stands in contrast to “being diligent”; in relation to work that “needs to get done”. An individual is seen as productive or unproductive according to what she or he “gets done”. But in order to determine whether a person is lazy or diligent, there always must be an assumption about what actually needs to get done. Who is to say what really needs to get done? Is it only the life sustaining activities, deeds, and tasks that really need to get done? What does it mean to be “productive”? Who is to say what is productive and what is unproductive? Is a person unproductive spending years just thinking and philosophizing, experiencing life? What if that person – after a decade of “laziness” – writes a poem that inspires people to change their life for the better? That individual might never have written such a poem, striving to be “productive” all these years. One can never know what type of activity might turn out to be of what value in the future.
The next question that must follow is: “Is it really necessary to make sure that everybody is productive?” Is it really about everybody doing something, just for the sake of doing anything? What if having our focus solely on being productive leads us to being over-productive?
Over-productivity can be very destructive. For instance: Designing products in ways that these products quickly fall apart and cannot be reused or recycled in order to produce and sell even more, is counterproductive if maintaining a healthy, clean environment is amongst the goals we set for ourselves. How can we make sure that productivity does not turn into destructive productivity? Here are some examples of thoughts that individuals in our contemporary societal systems are often faced with:
- “Yeah, I know that what I sell is produced under inhumane working conditions. I’d rather not sell that, but I need to keep my job!”
- “I know it’s unethical and wasteful to develop technical gadgets that are designed to fall apart quickly, but we need to keep making money.”
- “I don’t wanna sell food that has such crappy quality. But I can’t afford to grow the better foods and I need to make a living…”
We simply cannot make sure that productivity stays constructive, unless we stop forcing people into being productive at any cost. We have to free all individuals from the existential fear of having to “make a living”. Only in that way people have the possibility to become aware of their needs and ambitions. Out of this self-awareness they commence to pursue activities through which they can unfold their potential. And only in that way they can develop “productivity” that springs from their intrinsic motivation. If people are provided the freedom to be productive at their own discretion, being supported with all the necessary resources, it is likely that a huge part of society decides to pursue constructive and meaningful activities.
“Humans get lazy if they don’t have obligations.
On their own, they don’t want to take on responsibility.”
To live in societal systems that enable everyone to efficiently satisfy personal needs doesn’t mean that there won’t be any obligations. To feel needed and (a sense) of importance is a basic need, because it gives us a sense of direction and purpose. Many people feel a purpose in their life because of their obligations. They feel like what they do is making a significant contribution to society. Therefore they have a purpose and feel like they belong. If people feel like there is a need for them to oblige themselves to certain tasks and deeds, they should be free to do so. That is an important aspect of enlarging the scope of liberty for the individual. Everyone should be able to choose what they oblige themselves to do and what not. If there are important tasks that need to get done (e.g. growing food, cleaning the streets, maintenance of public transport), organizations that carry out these necessary tasks will surely continue to develop. In contrast to our contemporary society, the people that make up those organizations would primarily decide to pursue these tasks out of intrinsic motivation, rather than only from external driven incentives. Therefore these people would be highly interested in properly executing the necessary tasks.
Projects that too few people want to realize or too few people want to assume responsibility for, perhaps could not be realized in the way those individuals envisioned it. However, the individuals that pursue the realization of such projects should continue to be provided support for communicating their ambition, for finding like minded people and for fathoming alternative approaches in order to be able to realize their project in another way.
Today many people feel isolated in positions of great obligation. That may partly be due to our organizational structures, and partly due to our current mind set of rewards and punishments. The expectation that someone who takes over a task is solely responsible for it – leaving the individual alone with the completion of it – is a mind set that society has to leave behind. Having to pursue an important task all by oneself, not getting much constructive feed back, and possibly being punished for doing it wrong is a truly effective motivation killer. This is also the reason why people often feel reluctant to accept responsibility.
If an individual undertakes a task, all other individuals involved should show their interest and support for the execution of that task, not just stand by full of expectations and requirements. Being able to openly communicate all difficulties that come along with the responsibility of fulfilling a specific task, may enable people to take on this responsibility care free and effectively. In such supporting environments it is much easier for people to oblige themselves to a deed or task, than it is in the environments of today’s societal systems.
“Some people are simply lazy by their very nature.”
Let’s have a look at children’s behavior. Most children under three years of age are very diligent at discovering the world surrounding them. (Yes, you probably were too, when you were a child.) The more there is to discover, the more they discover. Children are not lazy. Even if their interests are solely about observing, they are very diligent at this discipline. Our current educational systems tend to inhibit the further development of this intrinsic motivation, rather than supporting it. We tell our kids to “concentrate on this task” and “stop fooling around”, instead of supporting them in following their inherent interests. We put them into schools where – for years – they have to learn things that may not be of any interest to them at all. And then, after years of systematically diminishing intrinsic motivation within young people, we say such things as “people are lazy by nature”.
If people after years of training have internalized not to follow their inner interests and inner motivation, but rather to motivate themselves with extrinsic motivators (like grades and money), it is no wonder that they are inactive in the absence of extrinsic incentives. If, on top of that, you are punished for being active – discovering, learning what you like to learn or just for the sake of having playful fun – of course you’ll rather be inactive!
People are not lazy by nature. People are curious and interested by nature. Most children know when they need a break, when they need to sleep, when they feel hungry, or when they simply want to be productive. That doesn’t mean they are lazy, it just means they’re in tune with their energy balance.
In societal systems which are actually designed to unconditionally take care of all people and secure the well being of all, we would have a very different situation. In such systems everybody would be optimally supported in pursuing the realization of their intrinsically motivated goals since early childhood. In societal systems that holistically sustain and foster people’s intrinsic motivation, many people might be very active, since they would be accustomed to follow their inherent interests from the beginning of their lives. (→ Education)
“If everyone has access to everything, people will simply destroy their environment.”
That everyone is taken care of, supported, and helped in satisfying their needs and pursuing their ambitions doesn’t mean that everyone can just take whatever they want to and do with it whatever they like! Granting free access for everyone would entail to also educate ourselves about the interrelations on all levels of life on this planet (ecological, social, economical, etc.). In that way everyone could develop an awareness about interrelations and the importance of protecting the integrity of all life of this world. Such awareness established as common sense would lead to a set of rules and regulations to protect the ecosystems and their natural cycles, plants, animals, and humans.
Today people need to “make a living”. That often drives them to pursue jobs that exploit or damage their environment. Within a society wherein everyone is taken care of and no one has to have existential fear, “making a decent living” just won’t be an excuse to break protecting rules anymore!
Additionally concerning particular tasks, there will certainly still be regulations that determine authorization procedures that authorize an individual to responsibly handle dangerous or scarce materials, goods, services and procedures.
If it’s our goal that everyone has access to whatever he or she needs, we will have to derive reasonable rules from extensive understandings about how to treat each other, the earth, and all creatures on it in order to not exploit or destroy our living habitat or another. Ridding ourselves of the experience of existential fear by applying needs-based design to societal systems will give us the liberty to actually align with these rules. That will make it unnecessary to damage or destroy anything in order to satisfy ones needs.
“Competition generates very productive ideas.”
That may be true. However, it also generates some very destructive stuff. And often it just doesn’t give us what it’s actually supposed to. We – the authors – think, competition may be a good and healthy method concerning many situations. For instance when it is used in games, for learning, or if purposefully applied to solve problems, competition can have very constructive impacts.
However, to apply the concept of competition to the race for (access to) resources is a very dangerous and destructive combination. We all need resources to satisfy our every day needs. Competition in these terms puts life as a society into a very different light. This game of competition is rather destructive to the actual goal of society (→ Values). People do not recover from losing within this global game of competition like from losing a sports game. They actually lose their homes, die of malnutrition or food poisoning, get hurt in war, become drug abusers, are imprisoned, or they become victims of other forms of violence. And all that just because they are not as good, fast, fierce, harsh, smart, advanced or privileged as other (groups of) individuals. The race for resources – and therefore for a good and decent life – should not be a race in the first place! Competition should not be used as the main method in the allocation of resources! It can be used in games, but not as the basic means of how (groups of) individuals satisfy their needs.
“It’s impossible to make everyone happy. You cannot please everybody.”
We do agree on that one. Redesigning societal structures is not about pleasing everyone, but about getting as close as possible to an ideal (→ Values). Moreover, it is not the aim of societal systems to make people happy. What a societal system can and should contribute to the happiness of the individual is to provide a fulfilling, supportive environment. In that way the individual has the liberty to discover her or his happiness her or himself. People know, or can learn, how to make themselves or each other happy.
On the material level providing everybody with one of everything is not necessary to aid people in their pursuit of satisfaction. For example, you might have the impression that everybody wants to ride a car. If we – the global society – don’t have the resources to grant everyone a car as means of transportation, we firstly need to check, how many people want such an automobile in the first place. Then we need to look at what they really want from that car: Do they want to use it two months a year, own it as a status symbol, use it to go on short weekend vacations five times a year or do they need it for their daily transportation? So basically the question is: “do they really need to own a car, or do they need individual, safe, reliable, flexible, fast and comfortable transportation?”
To arrange the latter is a matter of organization. The goal is to take the whole array of needs and expectations – which will continue to change – into consideration and develop a traffic concept out of them. This traffic concept would largely be based on the intelligent coordination of all the means of transportation (walkways, bicycles, buses, taxis, cars, trains, helicopters, airplanes, etc.) that are available. The intention would be to provide every individual at any point in time access to the means of transportation of her or his choice. In parallel we should try to provide a vehicle to those people who would like to have access to it around the clock. In that way we could build reliable, sustainable transportation systems that could optimally serve the individual’s personal needs.
We have to apply such approach of questioning our needs in order to coordinate different interests within society to many areas of our societal systems. Only then will we achieve access abundance (→Handling Resource Scarcity). This requires questioning what the real needs behind our desires and opinions are. Figuring this out more precisely may give an extra boost to the satisfaction of the individual’s need. The more clear we are about our needs the more direct and sustainable we may satisfy them. This awareness and this way of coordinating our needs with another will lead us much more effectively to satisfaction and happiness than we are used to today. Everyone should be enabled to satisfy their needs and therefore be free to choose happiness in the process.
“Once a person has the opportunity, he places himself above other people.”
This is a quite accurate observation in today’s systems. Since our current systems operate with the artificial creation and the sustaining of scarcity (→Handling Resource Scarcity) it is a logical conclusion that a human being would rather push that scarcity towards others, than experience it her- or himself. Experiencing scarcity means “not being able to satisfy ones needs in the way that one wants to satisfy them”. And since every human being strives for satisfaction (→ Basic Understandings), we all are eager to achieve our goals most effectively.
In societal forms of organization, wherein ones position in hierarchies, casts, and the social stand are not crucial in order to achieve goals, it might occur much less that people try to dominate each other. Even if it occurs, individuals might have viable options to step out of these dependent relations of such rigid organizational structures.
“Is that about abolishing hierarchies? Without hierarchical structures there is chaos!”
The task that humanity faces is not to rid itself of all kinds of hierarchical structures. It is however important to free people from the (societal) pressure to submit themselves to hierarchies in order to gain access to whatever resources they need or want. People should be enabled to choose whether they would like to be part of a hierarchy or not. They should be able to develop hierarchies together, or to change them. Hierarchies that are developed and shaped by all individuals of a group for themselves, are usually found helpful by all involved individuals. Concerning the pursuit of a common goal, such hierarchies that are derived from a self-chosen culture of cooperation, work far more effective and efficient than rigid, appointed structures. Hence, it is not about abolishing hierarchies, rather it is about rethinking our forms of organisation and together shaping them anew.
“In order to implement such an idea, everybody has to agree.
As soon as one person does not want to go along, it won’t work.”
Such a statement springs from our current democracy understanding. This understanding evolves around making decisions – especially decisions that lead to “let’s do that” or let’s not do that”. However, our possibilities are far more versatile than bluntly choosing between “yes” or “no”. The goal should rather be to assemble solutions from the vast array of possibilities that optimally support every individual and all individuals together at satisfying our needs. Everyone who wants to find solutions for themselves and others, joins in. Everyone should have the freedom to join or not to join.
An important requirement for that is to free people from the (societal) pressure to submit to hierarchies in order to gain access to resources. Such dependencies can render people (near to) unable to pursue solutions that are contrary to what their leaders or superiors propose.
Finally the question is not if everyone will join in. The question is what steps we want to take in order to develop forms of living together where not everyone has to agree in order for everyone to be okay. How can we establish the trust and certainty that the solutions and decisions of others do not stand in conflict with the satisfaction of my personal needs for all people?
“And what about the people that oppose that? What about those people?”
People that are opposing something are doing so to satisfy some of their needs. What those needs are is differing from individual to individual. Mostly, they act out of the fear that the undertaking they oppose might impair their well-being or the well-being of someone they care about. Therefore it is always important to take these fears seriously and meet them with empathy in order to find solutions together. Should mental or physical violence arise, it is important to protect everyone involved in order to enable the continuation of the dialogue.
Only through contact people can obtain clarity as to where there are conflicts, what are the objectives, values and needs of “opponents” and how to derive proposals for solutions from these insights. That’s how a conflict can be transformed into peaceful coexistence or even cooperation.
“You cannot change that. That is human nature!”
This opinion is often stated when people talk about personality traits in general or the characteristics of particular people. However, it is simply not possible to draw conclusions as to what is “unchangeable human nature” and what is not! For instance: that an individual does not know how to change certain characteristics about themselves doesn’t mean it is impossible to change these. It simply means that it is impossible for that individual, with her or his current knowledge at this particular time.
However, mostly it is not at all necessary to try to change human traits. It is rather necessary to change the conditions surrounding these individuals, so that whatever behavior is expressed does not have a negative impact on other individuals. For example, a person that likes to dance all night, might really annoy the neighbors with playing loud music and stomping around. However, if that person has the opportunity to dance in a room in his or her community center at night, she or he might not even have to change anything about their nightly passion.
More importantly, if circumstances surrounding individuals are changed in order to better fit these individuals’ needs, the expression of harmful behavior towards others might even disappear. Many people act mean, ruthless, nasty, aggressive or cruel because they feel vulnerable, threatened, or somehow uncomfortable within a certain (life-) situation. As soon as it is not necessary to express offending behavioral patterns in order to gain or get something, it might not even be desirable for the individual to do so.
If the reasons to express destructive behavior disappear, a tendency to show peaceful, non-aggressive behavioral patterns often emerges. That is the case because it is much more pleasant and healthy to live in harmony with one’s surrounding. If people change from living in one kind of environment into another, over time they adjust their way of relating to their surrounding.
We should therefore stop trying to change one another. We should rather try to understand the interconnected relations between behavioral patterns of individuals and surrounding circumstances. The insights that we gain from this undertaking make focusing on changing “human nature” unnecessary. They rather put the focus on shaping our ways of living together and the environments we live in. The environments of individuals should favor and support the expression of behavior that is considered constructive – or at least not destructive – to the purpose of society. (→ Values)
“People need to be controlled in order not to harm each other.”
In short, people tend to rarely show harmful behavior, if they feel safe, secure and free and live in a culture of mutual recognition and support. Therefore they do not have to be controlled. The circumstances ensure that they can live in harmony with their environment. If we want people to show less destructive and harmful behavior, we need to make sure that no one feels threatened for being who they are, liking what they like, living how they want to live, expressing themselves how they feel like, loving who they love, expressing what they think, or pursuing their dreams the way they want.
If control is self-chosen, it often is perceived as helpful by the individual. However, if people feel exposed to external control that they can not understand, did not pick and may even consider threatening, they feel confined, blocked and powerless. So therefore precisely because they are controlled the resulting anger and aggression may inflict harm onto other individuals.
Of course we – the global society – will not let people that harm others continue to do so. People involved in violent confrontation should be enabled to deal with the conflict non-violently. Those individuals should be supported in resolving their conflicts. The process of overcoming the conflict should at least lead to a peaceful coexistence. However, that does not mean that we need to control each other.
We will (have to) continue to assure the compliance with the rules that we collectively give ourselves. The goal however should be that we do not even need these rules, because they are so deeply engraved in our societal togetherness that we can trust that they are followed and therefore do not need to be controlled.
The attempt to control other individuals usually originates in some kind of fear. That mostly springs from fears like:
- “Others may be destroying what I build up!”
- “They’ll be taking opportunities or items from me!”
- “They’ll be stopping me from achieving my goals!”
Fear can be very restraining. Trying to control others’ actions often has the opposite effect of what is initially desired. People who try to control others will most likely never feel completely free. They are just too likely to always watch their back, having a hard time enjoying their freedom.
It is unnecessary – and undesirable – to try to control the behavior of (groups of) individuals. Since fear is often triggered by unknown situations that we find difficult to evaluate, the opposite is necessary: We need to overcome our fears by trying to get to know the unknown. We need to collect information, getting in touch with the situations and individuals we are afraid of. On this basis we might establish cooperative togetherness. That would mean we could live together without fear and thus without any need for mutual control. People do not need to be controlled. People need to be satisfied (feeling safe and secure, living a fulfilled life of their choice) in order to be able to live side by side in harmony.
— Footnotes —
(A0) For simplifying purposes we do not elaborate further on those influences occurring before conception (e.g. natural selection as part of evolution, our ancestor’s development history etc.).
(A1) The genetic code is used to construct proteins within the body. If genes are like blueprints for an organism, proteins can be seen as the actual biological “machines” implementing the instructions of these blueprints. They perform a vast array of tasks within living organisms. For instance, proteins break up the sugar that you eat so that your body can absorb it. Other proteins are health-protecting antibodies.
Proteins are constantly produced in all cells of the human body. At the beginning of this production process, some proteins read out the genetic code. While attached to the genetic code, they read it sequence by sequence. However, not all genetic sequences are constantly legible since there are other proteins that influence the accessibility of a genetic sequence. These proteins are wrapped around the genetic code, thus covering it. There are signals from their environment (environmental triggers) that can cause such proteins to tighten and thus hide particular gene sequences from being read. If a sequence cannot be read, this part of the genetic code will not be expressed. This mechanism therefore does not change the genetic sequences. It rather influences which parts of a gene sequence are expressed or suppressed. The science of epigenetics describes the mechanisms of activating or deactivating the expression of gene sequences.
(B1) At this point we would like to comment on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs since we think that many of our readers are familiar with the pyramid graphic. We would like to refrain from the division in deficiency needs and growth needs. Furthermore, the division of needs in any other kind of categories (e.g. basic needs, existential needs, luxury needs, etc.) is irrelevant for our purposes in this article. For specific purposes it can be useful to assign needs to particular categories. However, we observe the priority of needs to be highly subjective. From our perspective, the order of priority is different from individual to individual, from life situation to life situation. For this article, it is neither important in which hierarchical order an individual’s needs are arranged nor if this order is universally applicable.
(C1) Since rewards and punishments (can) put people under pressure to perform and to pinpoint their focus, those incentives can be a rather constraining factor in problem solving. Focusing the mind often is adverse to the ability of cognitively putting together information that seemingly has little or no connection but needs to be connected in order to derive solutions.
— Quotations and References —
 – “An achievement focused approach that may be fostered by an “if-then” reward system therefore may be counterproductive: People that were offered rewards for solving heuristic tasks quickly turned out to need longer solving them. The focus of the mind is narrowed and therefore it is harder for the individual to see a new functionality (or use) for old (long known) objects. … All of this is true for tasks that are not algorithmic and more elevated right brain activity – flexible problem-solving, inventiveness or conceptual understanding. For those tasks, contingent rewards can be dangerous.” Daniel Pink
 – “The very presence of goals may lead employees to focus myopically on short-term gains and to lose sight of the potential devastating long-term effects on the organization.” Harvard Business School
 – “Rewards are addictive in that once offered a contingent reward makes an agent expect it when ever a similar task is faced, which in turn compels the principal to use rewards over and over again.” Anton Suvorov
 – “And before long, the existing reward may no longer suffice. It will quickly feel less like a bonus and more like a status quo – which then forces the principle to offer larger rewards to achieve the same effect.” Daniel Pink
 – “Goals that people set for themselves and that are devoted to attaining mastery are usually healthy.” Daniel Pink
 – Passage freely adapted from Daniel Pink
Further inspirational information and research material is available on our link pages (→ Links about Human Behavior).