A thought inspired by Sunday’s Daf (page) in the Talmud, Gittin 61
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Trust, self interest and the bonds between us.
This post presents a philosophical idea inspired by the text of today’s Daf. The Daf is one page in the Talmud that tens of thousands of people study each day. I explain the connection to the text in a comment below. My purpose is to show that there are underlying philosophical assumptions in the Talmud that can have great significance for anybody today trying to understand our complex reality.
There is a common notion in military thinking that soldiers do not fight for their country, but for their comrades. Unpacking this idea a little leads to the realization that the bonds between individuals involved in a project play a significant role in their motivation, regardless of their initial reasons for participating.
In any collaborative task or long-term mission involving two people, their motivations will never be identical.
For example, if you hire someone to tend to your garden, your motivation is primarily to have a beautiful garden, while the gardener’s motivations may include being paid and having enough food for the week. Even in a more symmetrical relationship, such as two partners building a business, the mix of motivations they bring to the job will not be identical.
Unfortunately, when individuals work towards a goal, there may be better ways to achieve that goal that others in the project might not be interested in. For instance, if your goal is to get paid and you believe that the team members could do the job just as well, you might choose to work less as long as your slacking goes unnoticed.
The typical solution to this problem is to monitor each other. By reducing the opportunities for team members to pursue different goals based on your lack of knowledge, you can minimize this issue. However, it may be helpful to consider the dynamics of cooperative behavior before fully embracing omniscient monitoring.
Over the course of a project, individuals’ motivations change and evolve. When managed effectively, the interpersonal dynamics between team members become a component of these motivations. If team members begin to see themselves as part of a larger whole, helping one another becomes a shared goal on some level. Team members may become less driven by their own interests and more motivated by the interests of the other team members. They may not be explicitly aware of this change, as it taps into deep instinctual reactions.
On the other hand, monitoring team members excessively sends a message of distrust. This response weakens the human bonds that may have otherwise developed. When people are not trusted, they become less trustworthy.
It would be incorrect to suggest that this idealistic notion of team dynamics applies universally. There are situations where people display more cooperation when there are fewer opportunities to cheat. Thus, in some cases, increased monitoring can improve the chances of project success.
However, it is worth considering the effect of mistrust on our other goals. While implementing a system with less trust may achieve a specific objective, what impact does this have on our overall goals?
A world with more trust among individuals may fall short in achieving certain goals, but it would undoubtedly be a more pleasant world to live in.