We The Givers: As human beings, we all have the capacity to serve others and society. In the eighteenth century, when the Founding Fathers were fighting to establish our nation, the word “virtue” was commonly used and understood to mean putting the common good before one’s own interests.¹ Virtue was admired above all things in those days. The Founding Fathers dreamed of a society where virtue-in-action was the norm.
We The Takers: As human beings, we are all driven by self-interest.² Some of the Founding Fathers, including the authors of the US Constitution, keenly understood virtue-in-action was not sustainable without accounting for self-interest. And yet, the authors understood self-interest and concentrations of power would destroy their new republic if unchecked. So, they built in guard rails to constrain the drive for self-interest and a system of checks and balances to limit political power. As James Madison and Alexander Hamilton said in the Federalist Papers (No. 51): “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
When working with human beings on any effort or project for the common good, it is important to remember we are all givers, and we are all takers. People want to do good (but only) while doing well. When we understand and account for this duality, when we take the time to understand clearly what “do good” and “do well” means for the people involved, we increase the probability of sustainable success. If not, failure is inevitable.
That’s REAL to me.
¹ To learn more about this idea, here is one source: Ricks, Thomas (2020). First Principles: What America’s Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How that Shaped our Country. HarperCollins Publishers: New York.
² The term “self-interest” is commonly defined as focusing on one’s own needs and preferences. And it is worth noting self-interest is not objective. It is subjective. For example, voting for a presidential candidate likely to harm my personal wealth can still be an act of self-interest if the candidate offers me something else that I value more.