Rhyme and Reason
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Rhyme and Reason

Cooperation Is Elementary, My Dear Watson

Last year, Monique, a French woman, came to Mumbai on an exploration. As foreigners often do, she went about the streets of Colaba Causeway and bought pashminas, jewellery, and knock-off bags. She was thrilled about the bargain she scored. Except that it wasn’t. Her Airbnb lady told her that in reality, she had paid 5 times the price. Baffled, Monique said, “but all the other vendors quoted the same last price, they wouldn’t budge.” The landlady said, “That is because they have an understanding.”

This kind of behaviour is all around us. Not the ripping-off-the-foreigner part, but the one where just like the vendors, we demonstrate an understanding with each other in situations akin to us. These situations may occur at a personal, professional, or national level. The will to cooperate for the larger good is fundamental to our success as a species. From revolutions to resolutions, humans have relied on such organized efforts to push the needle forward. This cooperation has enabled the building of societies, religions, communities, and countries.

What drives this collective understanding?

The belief in a common story.

Gods, governments, sports, vaccines, are nothing but stories we tell each other in order to cooperate and meet a common goal. Some of these are true, some are imagined. Turbans, business suits, sacred threads, football jerseys, a rainbow in a Twitter bio are all markers that reinstate that ‘I believe in the same story as you.’ And we then go one step further and slot people critically according to their belief system.

A Whatsapp forward brought the slotting to life.

When people in the United States, refuse to wear a mask, it is not just about the said science. It is a deeper, political sentiment around the idea that I am an individual with the right over my body and what I do is in my own best interest. This behaviour denies mass cooperation and does not assume responsibility at an individual level for the larger good.

This is called ‘tragedy of the commons’. It is a situation in a shared-resource system where individuals, act independently according to their self-interest, and behave contrary to the common good of all users, thus depleting or spoiling the said resources.

Given the times where our life depends on other people’s better sense, it becomes critical for us to evaluate what our own decisions might lead to and avoid this tragedy like a plague. Hah.

That said, cooperation has a caveat; it is not selfless and expects something in return. You might not be better off by simply cooperating either. Find out how you behave in circumstances that require you to trust the other person to cooperate. Play this game by Nicky Case (after you finish reading the newsletter, of course).

Tell me how it went.



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I hear stories and show it as data. Sometimes, it’s the other way round. Writer/researcher/marketer | Health-tech puhsun