NEWS14 March 2018

Human urge to help sends message of positivity

Behavioural science Impact 2018 News Public Sector UK

UK – Humans have evolved to do truly brave and at times highly dangerous things for the greater good of the community – a fact that should provide hope in dark times – a leading human rights lawyer told the Impact 2018 conference.

Dexter 3

Dexter Dias QC, barrister and author of The Ten Types of Human, described how people displayed extraordinary resilience and self-sacrifice for the sake of those they will never meet, because most are innately driven by a “pro-social” drive that has provided an evolutionary advantage for millennia.

Dias described a woman who received death threats in the US for campaigning against female genital mutilation in sub-Saharan Africa – but did it anyway to spare girls thousands of miles away from the cutting she and her sister had suffered.

He recalled the case of a jury weeping when a sex offender was convicted and his young victims, now grown up, won justice. And the case of a woman who had fought to get answers over the death of her son, Gareth, then was motivated to fight on for other people.

“Why did that jury weep? What is it in Gareth’s case that made people want to fight back and do something to continue to seek justice. And why is it (the woman) is risking her life to protect people she will never see?”

Action for a greater good, or what Dias called “pro-social behaviour” was a powerful impulse that drove 90 to 95% of people to varying extents; it gives them a feel-good buzz to do something for other people, and has helped the human species adapt and survive.

“We have really strong pro-social urges. We hear lots of doom and gloom about the world and about what people are like, and how terrible we are. I actually take the opposite view. My experience is yes, there are dangerous people and there are people who cause great harm, but there are also a majority who do not, and we tend to lose sight of that. That, to me, is a very encouraging and positive thing.”

Dias urged the audience to rethink the Edmund Burke observation that "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." 

“I try to ask a different question: imagine what we could accomplish when good people do good things and in particular, given that we’re inherently social animals, imagine what we can accomplish when we do good things together,” he said.

He urged further collaboration between the legal community and people in market research, to achieve learnings for the greater good.

“Imagine putting all the things that you know and all the insights you have gained about the human condition with some of those that we have had to learn the hard way in the courts, and put those together to form a more complete view of exactly what human beings are like. The possibilities are endless.”