The public goods game is a psychology experiment often used to teach in college-level social psychology and economics classes. The premise is this: every player is given an equal amount of money and asked to contribute as much as they want to a communal pot. The moderator of the game then doubles the pot and pays out all the players equal dividends. For example, if 10 players each put in $2, for a total of $20, the pot doubles to $40, and each player is paid $4. To win the game, every player needs to give the most money possible so that all can reap the rewards. However, whenever psychologists test this game, they inevitably find that after a few rounds, players will begin to freeload by putting in less than the maximum contribution. These freeloaders are soon punished by the other players, and everyone ends up losing in the end.
The game always, invariably ends the same way. There are always those who try to cheat the system, and there are always those that try to cheat the cheaters, even at their own personal cost. We see this type of behavior in the world around us every single day, and it can make a person start to wonder, why try so hard to live virtuously?
When the cheaters seem to be winning
If you've ever looked around you and felt discouraged by moral decay, know that you are not alone. It is a trying time to raise a family and be a contributing member of society. As we teach our children to be the good in the world, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of bad influences that surround our families. When we start feeling like the cheaters, liars, and freeloaders have everything handed to them, it's time for a change of perspective.
Value-based living, or the conscientious effort to live a life full of intention and honor, has inherent rewards even when those rewards are not immediately clear. Living a life full of intention leads to long-term rewards such as fulfilling family relationships, stable career success, close friendships and personal satisfaction.
Looking in the mirror in the morning
When you wake up in the morning and look in the mirror, do you approve of the person you see? One of the greatest rewards of value-based living is the personal satisfaction that comes from living consistently with your own morals. As you make decisions that bring out your best self, you also model the best behavior for your children. We all want to raise charitable children, and that process begins with charitable parenting.
On a personal level, there are few things that feel better than knowing you're living right in your own eyes. When we choose to live contrary to our own ethical compass, it results in what psychologists term cognitive dissonance. Making choices that violate our standards results in anxiety, depression, loss of sleep and low self-esteem. Even when it seems that everyone else is choosing poorly, making positive decisions results in better health and better self-image.
The benefits to society
However, there are still very real benefits for society from an individual's good choices. Cheaters and liars aside, contributing to society in small but meaningful ways brings up everyone around us. When we choose to serve those in our community, that positive attitude spreads to those around us. Just as we can choose to get discouraged by the bad in the world, we can also choose to create good in the world through our positive example.
Our decisions to raise value-driven families will not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Societies thrive or die on the actions of concerned individuals. By choosing to live a value-based life, you are ensuring the success of your community. Let the freeloaders be and continue to contribute, regardless of the actions of others. You and your community will be better for it.