I could be completely off the mark here, but it seems that the way a society matures and develops is not unlike the way that an individual matures and develops. The development process can start with hedonistic inclinations, but as those needs are met, the scope can open up to helping others.
Focusing on Me, Myself, and I
“What’s in it for me?”
While there are certainly exceptions, most people start out their lives focusing on themselves. Particularly in capitalistic societies where personal success is so highly valued, this makes perfect sense. No one can help you more than yourself. By focusing on ourselves, we further our personal relationships with others, advance our careers, acquire wealth, and attempt to find some semblance of success. No one can blame you for taking this kind of approach, really, because it is understandable that you want to be successful.
Taking Care of the In-Group
“What’s in it for us?”
At the next stage, we may start to place greater weight on the needs and desires of those with common interests. Instead of focusing on your career for personal gains, you are working hard at your job to provide for your children’s future. Instead of trying to advance your own career, you make an attempt to boost the entire industry where you work. These in-groups, working together, can be much more effective than if the individuals were working on their own.
The same can be said about companies as well. As you may learn from reading Saving the World at Work, the first organizations to embrace greener technologies and fairer labour practices, for example, may find greater fiscal success as a result. The environment wins, the workers win, and the company wins.
Using a Wider-Angle Lens
“What’s in it for them?”
In the previous two examples of focusing on “me” and focusing on “us”, there was still personal gain to be had. Perhaps the most profound shift in priority would be the one on “them.” At this level, personal gains and successes are of secondary concern, because you’d much rather tend to the needs of others. This could take on the form of charitable donations or social activism.
At this level, you may forgo a higher-paying job because of a company’s potentially unethical practices overseas. You may opt for a much lower-paying job somewhere else, because that company is more in line with the change that you would like to exert on the world.
I’m not saying that one perspective is necessarily better than the others, but there does appear to be a greater shift toward a “them-focused” approach. Society as a whole is paying more attention to fair labour practices, environmental concerns, and international human rights, even if these issues have no direct impact on the lives of those who fight for these causes. Where do you fit on the spectrum?