How We Learn to Share With Others
Sharing is one of the earliest things that we learn from our parents. Why? Because it seems our natural impulse isn't to share. Our parents teach us to share in increasingly sophisticated ways and our ideas about sharing develop as we grow. But what type of sharing is the endpoint of the evolution of sharing? Is it to learn to share equally, or selflessly, or something else?
Our parents start us off
When we start to learn to share, our parents might introduce it to us through turn taking; “This turn is yours, and then your sister has the next one”. Or, our parents divide something and we get given an equal portion. We don't much like it – we want it all! – but we slowly get used to it.
Gradually we get to a point where we are willing to take turns or to divide something and to let others take some. We postpone being immediately satisfied because we trust our time will come. But we are very sensitive to the idea that it won't be fair; that the others we are sharing with will get more than we do. To make things fairer, in effort to hold each other accountable, we sometimes use the ‘you cut the cake, I choose the slice' approach.
Fairness is inequality
As we get older, we sometimes can accept that fairness might mean that we divide things into unequal portions. Sometimes we factor in other things – opportunities, wealth, circumstances – that are not divided fairly when we work out how to share and we attempt to redress these imbalances through accepting a lesser portion. We help a disadvantaged person in exchange for feeling like we have done the right thing.
Fighting for scarce resources
But sometimes, even with people we love, sharing can seem like a tussle for scarce resources, and we can feel that we are going to lose out to the other person. We can feel that we need to get in first or somehow protect ourselves from losing. It might even be something as small as dividing a cake in a café, but our instincts, even after all these years, can sometimes make it feel like a win-lose fight.
Perhaps we both can win when we learn to share
At these moments perhaps we need to relax the whole concept of sharing based on scarcity, and remind ourselves that there isn't a shortage. We could say “Have as much as you want; I will too, and if that means getting another slice of cake – why not?” Perhaps things aren't always as scarce as we fear they might be, and, at the same time, we may realise that there are more important things than competing.
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