Re: your mail

Thu, 24 Apr 1997 00:07:22 -0400 (EDT)
Andrew Wayne Austin (

I am raising an infant. He is 22 months old now. He has a little friend
who comes over to play. I watch their behavior together. I have observed
many instances of sharing and taking. The adults (including my wife and
me) who accompany the children have noted, interestingly, that when the
children are off playing in my son's room they never fight. Checking up on
them periodically finds my son helping the little girl slide down the
slide, both of them laying in bed pretend reading, or both of them in the
big plastic car. However, when they are in front of the adults, with the
constant telling my son and their daughter to drink from their own sippy
cup, of pointing to this and that object as "mine" and "yours," the two
children can be provoked to fight, and I see selfish behavior emerge. I
have helped my sister raise her daughter. I have watched my two little
brothers grow up. I see children everywhere. In fact, I used to be a child
myself, and remember quite a lot about it. I see no instances of naturally
arising selfishness in children. What I see is children behaving in the
ways they have been taught. Sharing at times. Selfish at other times. I
have noted that these instances are context-dependent, as well. Now, of
course, my observations are in no way a controlled experiment. They are
just observations. So the fact that I more often see examples of sharing
behavior in children than I see selfish behavior is only my personal
observation (although, I think that if you stop and consider this, you
will find that children cooperate and give far more than they take and
struggle, but I would never suggest altruism and cooperation to be an
aspect of human nature). I am only responding to Sanderson's apparent
bewilderment concerning how anybody who has raised a child could have
missed (or maybe deny) their inherent selfishness. I confess, I must have
missed it.

Andrew Austin