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You Get What You Pay For

The first currency we ever received was attention. Our parents let us know what parts of our behavior were of higher value by the attention they paid us for it during and after we acted. 

And the thing is—many people pay WAY MORE for destructive, loud, and inappropriate behaviors than they do for quiet, pro-social ones. When this happens, the message we receive is anti-social behavior is more valuable, so we should do it more. We get what we pay for. 

Attention is connection. And as social creatures connection is most vital to our survival and we’ll do anything to get it. Being present with our kids and all our relationships circumvents a lot of that. In this society we’re often overworked and exhausted and don’t feel like we have the energy to celebrate the small kindnesses. There’s also the mentality that we shouldn’t have to reward expected behaviors. 

And yeah, I agree, we don’t need to throw a whole damn party when someone opens the door for us or helps clean the house, but we can make eye contact, smile, and verbally express gratitude when it happens and explain why that was helpful. That’s all it takes. 

This is not to say we should ignore harmful behaviors. Those need to be addressed and clearly explained why they’re harmful. But if we place more value on helpful behaviors, those will be the ones people will more likely keep doing to rack up the attention points. And this doesn’t just apply to children. It applies to all our relationships and more public figures.

And even more, modeling helpful behaviors and pointing out those behaviors in others and in books and other media is often the best way to guide.

So go ahead and invest your attention in those who are

  • showing kindness by speaking gently to someone

  • comforting someone who’s sad or hurt

  • sharing things

  • donating resources

  • volunteering time

  • offering to help someone

  • cooperating with other people in a game or task

  • showing care for animals and the environment.

Because in the end, this not only benefits our personal lives, societies that have a lot of people with prosocial values are better at breaking down prejudice, overcoming disadvantage, sharing resources and including everyone. These sorts of societies benefit everyone who lives in them. And that's worth paying for.

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