The Right Way to Give—A lesson by Adam Grant and Dr. Seuss

If you’ve read Dr. Seuss as a child–or if you’re like me–more recently as aadam grant - dr. seussn adult too, you may remember Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose. On a beautiful summer day, Thidwick is busy strolling and munching some moose moss with the rest of the herd, when a Bingle Bug calls to him:

The bug called out, Hey!

It’s such a long road

And it’s such a hot day

Would you mind if I rode on your horns for a way?

Thidwick replies:

 Of course not! smiled Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose.

I’m happy my antlers can be of some use.

There’s room there to spare, and I’m happy to share!

Be my guest and I hope that you’re comfortable there!

If this was a perfect world, the bug would be off with a Big Bungle Bug thank you to Thidwick. But instead, the bug extends a warm welcome to anyone else who’s looking for a nice and free place to stay. Soon a spider weaves a web, a bird makes a nest, and a woodpecker drill holes in Thidwick’s antlers.

Shocked at how these pests are using Thidwick, his friends advise him:

 ...GET RID OF THOSE PESTS

I would, but I can’t, sobbed poor Thidwick. They’re guests!

Furious, the herd storms off, leaving Thidwick behind.

 ***

We like Thidwick, the big hearted moose. We feel his pain. He’s the proverbial nice guy who finishes last.

But…do nice guys really finish last? Adam Grant explores this question in his wonderful book Give and Take. Adam found that there are three types of people: “givers”, who give generously without doing the math on what they’re getting in return (like Thidwick), “takers”, who take as much as they can (like the pests), and “matchers,” who are as generous as the person they’re dealing with.

We’ve been told, and fear, that nice guys finish last, while unscrupulous takers finish first. But is this true? Adam found that givers finish first – and last. Turns out, there are two types of givers: selfless givers and otherish givers.

  • Selfless givers typically have high other-interest and low self-interest. Adam writes: “They give their time and energy without regard for their own needs, and they pay a price for it. Selfless giving is a form of pathological altruism, which is defined by researcher Barbara Oakley as “unhealthy focus on others to the detriment of one’s own needs, such that in the process of giving, givers end up harming themselves.” Just like Thidwick.
  • Otherish givers have high other-interest AND high self-interest. Adam found that other-interest and self-interest are not opposite ends of the spectrum – it’s possible to have both these motivations at the same time. Otherish givers value giving to others, but they are also ambitious and protective of their interests. In fact, Adam found that successful givers are as ambitious as takers or matchers. Imagine Thidwick, all grown up, having learnt to watch out for himself.

It turns out that otherish givers actually emerge on top, whereas selfless givers end up at the bottom, an easy target for the takers of the world. (Aaah, Thidwick!)

***

What happened to Thidwick after the herd left him? Things got worse. More pests climbed aboard.  When winter set in and moose moss got scarce, Thidwick tried to move to a greener side of the lake but the pests wouldn’t let him. One day, he heard bullets near him – the hunters wanted his head to stuff and hang in their Club. His antlers weighed him down and he couldn’t run, try as he might. It seemed the end was inevitable:

Except…

It’s true, he was in a most terrible spot,

But NOW he remembered a thing he’d forgot!

A wonderful something that happens each year

To the horns of all moose and the horns of all deer.

Today was the day Thidwick happened to know…

That OLD horns come off so that NEW ones can grow!

And he called to the pests on his horns as he threw ‘em,

You wanted my horns; now you’re quite welcome to ‘em!

Keep ‘em! They’re yours!

As for ME, I shall take

Myself to the far distant

Side of the Lake!

And what happened to the takers?

His old horns today are

Where you knew they would be.

His guests are still on them,

All stuffed, as they should be.

And so Dr. Seuss helped Thidwick learn the dangers of selfless giving and he lived happily ever after as an otherish giver on the far side of the lake!

The End

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