We see selfishness as a bad character trait. We should think of each other, the climate and be more sustainable for the greater good right? Wrong! Selfishness can be a good thing to promote difficult to change behaviour. Read more about it below.
I once had a discussion with the marketing boss of a Dutch NGO. We had provided him with a framing strategy to convince the Netherlands that development aid is actually good for the country. The strategy was to provide insight into how the absence of war, famine and dictatorships in the world around us is incredibly good for a trading country like the Netherlands. It was a perfect and strong counterpoint to the popular right-wing frame that development aid is a “leftist hobby”.
However, he shrugged off this. His words were literally,
“If I have to convince people to donate to us in this way, I don’t need them as donors.“
I remember very well how shocked I was by so much offensive leftist moral exaltation.
I believe in the reverse approach. If you want to convince people of difficult behaviour change, then the last thing you should do is ask them if they will do it to make the world a better place. Nor by selling them fear and damnation. That is the great tragedy of why do-gooders just can’t get the majority right on their side.
Their recipes suck.
What you have to sell is nothing less than selfishness and gratification.
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Sell selfishness and gratification.
What do you care if a multimillionaire will finance your hospital if it’s named after him? What do you care if that arrogant colleague rides up Alpe D’Huez five times for to raise money for the Cancer Fund KWF purely for his own ego? What do you care if electric Porsche drivers are primarily driven by signalling their social status. Are you annoyed by all those rich tourists who flood South African parks and act like colonials? It is precisely because there is super lucrative tourism business model that those parks exist and are not converted into farmland.
We need to stop giving selfishness a bad name.
And leftists also need to embrace it much more blatantly. Do we want a more just society with more consideration for the weakest of the weak? Then ask how multinational corporations and the super-rich can get much more appreciation and social status for their contributions.
Do you want us entrepreneurs to start accelerating the sustainable transition? Gladly! But then, in return for our effort, give us other levers to make our lives easier. If you are a trading union that wants to stand up for workers, then for God’s sake, make heroes out of the employers instead of dragging them through the mud. Even when you are right, you make it incredibly difficult for employers to give in.
We need to stop asking people to do something for the world outside them. Look at how much the sustainable transition is accelerating under the impetus of nicer electric cars, cheap energy bills from solar panels, incredibly delicious plant-based food, or the increased quality of life from hybrid work.
Long live selfishness.
One day it will save the world.
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