JERRY CAME HOME FROM WORK angry. He is
a supervisor at a restaurant. His wife, Candice, asked, "What's
the matter, honey?"
"Oh, I'm just mad at the guys I was
working with tonight," he says. "I wasn't scheduled
to work tonight, and I was looking forward to a night off, but
Bill called me from Spokane. He forgot he was scheduled tonight
and begged me to work for him as a busser. He offered me $150
to work for him, plus whatever tips I might make."
"Wow! Hard to pass that up."
"Well, I actually tried to pass it
up. I called Justin and asked if he wanted the opportunity. Bill
had tried to call him, but couldn't get through. Bill was about
20 minutes from being the best man in his friend's wedding and
was freaking out because he knew he'd be fired if he couldn't
get his shift covered. So I told him I'd get a hold of Justin,
and if Justin wouldn't do it, I'd do it."
"That was nice of you."
"Yeah, so I called Justin, and he
couldn't do it because he was already working. So by the time
I got to work, all three of the servers I was working with knew
about the deal and were jealous because I was going to make more
than they were."
Jerry paused. He was thinking about something.
Then he said, "I knew they would feel that way, so I'd already
decided to tell them that they didn't have to tip me at the end
of the night. I was already getting a big enough tip from Bill.
And you know what? Not one of them thanked me."
"Ouch," said Candice. "That's
"And I've been kind of mad about it
all night and now I've got a headache."
Candice started to say something but stopped.
Then she looked at Jerry and said, "Why did you want to
let them keep your tips?"
"They don't make much money in that
section. I'm exempt for working that shift because I'm the supervisor,
and I just figured it would make things more even, more fair.
So basically," and Jerry's voice started to get louder,
"I worked for Bill because I didn't want him to get fired
and I didn't want those guys to have to work without a busser
because I know how hard that is, and I got no gratitude at all.
That pisses me off. Dogs! I don't think I'll be doing them any
more favors. I bend over backwards trying to make our working
conditions good, to help us work together as a team and feel
good about it, and they just whine and complain."
Candice broke in, "Maybe they complain
because it keeps you doing them favors."
"What do you mean?"
"Some people don't really try to be
fair. If someone said you didn't have to tip them, you
would immediately say thank you. You might even try to insist
on tipping anyway, regardless of what their arrangement was with
Jerry nodded his head and said, "I
actually was expecting at least one of them to do exactly that.
But not only did they not try to talk me out of it, they didn't
even seem grateful."
"I think it would be a good idea for
you," said Candice, "to try to determine who in your
world is fair with you, and who takes more from you than you
give to them. And then start dropping your level of giving with
the takers until it is equal. Because really, except for children,
the give-and-take between people should be pretty equal, don't
"Yeah, I guess so," said Jerry,
looking thoughtful now. "It should."
"It is as if," said Candice,
really on a roll now, "you assume everyone is fair and if
you treat them well, they'll treat you well in return."
"Well, I remember learning a long
time ago I read it in a book somewhere that people
will treat you as you treat them," said Jerry, "and
I think that's true, don't you?"
"Well, it's true to some extent.
But not a hundred percent. You know what? Probably that
should be the way you begin every relationship. But then after
awhile," and now Candice was talking very fast, "after
awhile you should try to determine whether or not the other person
is treating you well in return. And if they aren't, you're kind
of a fool to keep treating them well, right? I mean, I know you're
not a fool, Jerry. You're a really good man, and smart too. Maybe
it's just that you've never really tried to distinguish between
those who return your goodness fairly, and those who don't. That's
probably all it is. Those who don't are taking your resources
resources that could be going somewhere better. Like tonight,
you could have taken the tips from those guys, and given it to
your niece, who really wants dance lessons. Instead you gave
it to three guys who you have already done a lot for and who
don't appreciate it and don't give back."
"This is making a lot of sense, Candice."
Jerry was looking down, obviously deep in thought. Candice let
him think for a full minute.
"Another thing to add to this,"
said Candice softly, "is something I remember reading in
Greek mythology. Persephone was kidnapped by Hades and taken
into the underworld. She didn't want to be there and she was
very grumpy. Hades went out of his way to make her happy. He
gave her gifts, and did things for her, trying very hard to please
her. Persephone started liking all the attention and gifts, but
then she realized she couldn't let on that she liked it because
then Hades might stop being so nice. So she kept up the pretense
of complaining and never being satisfied with anything in order
to keep Hades giving to her."
Jerry said grimly, "That sounds familiar."
"You know how you have said before
you have a tendency to feel anxious about what people think?"
said Candice. "So maybe you are in the same position as
Hades with some people. Maybe because you're trying hard to please
people and make them happy, some people have figured out that
if they stay unsatisfied and complaining, they can keep you trying
to please them."
"That's possible," said Jerry,
a dawning light beginning to show in his eyes. "That's very
possible. And because I haven't been paying attention to who
was giving back to me and who wasn't, who was being fair to me
and who was just taking advantage of me, maybe I have been
Jerry looked like a man who just realized
he'd been conned. "Oh that really sucks."
Candice looked questioningly at Jerry and
he said, "No, this is good! This is really good.
It's just that I think I have been a fool. People have been taking
advantage of me, and what's worse, I've often been upset about
Jerry started to brighten up all of a sudden.
"So let me get this straight," he said, "I have
been giving to people without recognizing some don't give back.
So I'm losing whatever resources time, money, effort
that I could have been doing something good with, and some people
respond by taking and not giving, and worse, being ungrateful
or complaining, which made me upset, causing me stress in my
life that I basically caused myself!"
Jerry looked resolute. "Okay, that's
it," he said firmly, "No more. I am going to start
looking at the people in my life. I'm going to figure out
and it shouldn't be too hard who gives back to me and
who just takes. And I'm going to change my tack with the takers.
I'm going to reduce my level of giving until it is equal to what
they're giving me."
Candice started to say something, but Jerry
blurted out, "But I'm not going to become a cynic. Whenever
I first meet someone or establish a relationship, I will start
out giving. I will be a good guy. I like being kind and generous.
But I will pay attention. I'll notice if the person is a taker
and then I'll drop my giving down to where we're equal. This
is great! Thanks Candice."
TIT FOR TAT
Interestingly, in the 1970's the political
scientist Robert Axelrod created a computer world. Different
programs within this computer world played the famous Prisoner's Dilemma with each other.
The Prisoner's Dilemma is a hypothetical
situation, played as a game. It says to imagine that you have
two men who committed a crime together. They have been caught
and the police are interrogating them separately. Both prisoners
are offered the same deal: "If you rat on your partner and
if he keeps quiet, he'll get a life sentence and you'll go free.
But if you both keep silent, we have enough evidence that you'll
both get one year in prison. If he rats and you don't, you'll
get life and he'll go free. If you both rat on each other, you'll
each get twenty years in prison."
The dilemma is often played repeatedly
with the same two people, who choose to cooperate or take advantage
of the other through successive rounds of the game.
The Prisoner's Dilemma game is designed
to parallel real life. If two people in real life cooperate with
each other, it very often works to their mutual advantage. But
if one person cooperates and the other takes advantage, it often
works out very well for the selfish one and the unselfish person
gets screwed. But to go around preempting people trying
to take advantage of them before they take advantage of you
results in great loss all around. That's the "dilemma."
What should each prisoner do? What is the best strategy?
Researchers use the Prisoner's Dilemma
to study interactions between people. It mimics our real-life
choices and consequences very well.
Robert Axelrod, the political scientist,
invited computer programmers to create a program for his computer
world. The programs would interact with each other, playing the
Prisoner's Dilemma. The question is, which program succeeded
the best? What strategy was the most effective?
The program that beat all the others was
named TIT FOR TAT. It was designed by Anatol Rapoport and it
was a surprisingly simple program.
The strategy it used was this: For the
first interaction, it would cooperate. After that, it would repay
in kind whatever the other did. If the other cooperated, TIT
FOR TAT benefited. So did the other. If the other took advantage,
TIT FOR TAT cut its losses immediately.
As the game went on, TIT FOR TAT gained
more (and lost less) than any other program. In The Moral
Animal, Robert Wright wrote, "More than the steadily
mean, more than the steadily nice, and more than various 'clever'
programs whose elaborate rules made them hard for other programs
to read, the straightforwardly conditional TIT FOR TAT was, in
the long run, self-serving."
If you feel people take advantage of your kindness, you can save
yourself a lot of stress and bad feelings by following a strategy
somewhat like the TIT FOR TAT program. When you first begin a
relationship with someone, be generous, cooperative, and helpful.
But if you notice a lot of taking and not much coming back, cut
your losses and drop your generosity down to the level the other
is comfortable with. This is the solution to the Prisoner's Dilemma
and to Jerry's workplace dilemma. It's simple, it's kind, and
it is intelligent too.