Bringing out the ‘best’ in us

Recently at a family get together, my niece who has a great sense of humor which borders morbid at times, excitedly narrated an incident. She took it on herself to renew her driver’s license without greasing any palm and refused outright to take her husband’s help. More than to anyone else, probably she wanted to prove it to herself that things are changing. She even went out of her way to dress up so that her picture on the license for once doesn’t look like a mug shot. Of course that was wishful thinking and her picture did come out like…well, a mug shot! In any case, she stood her ground despite most people bypassing her, she having to shout at the top of her voice and touts constantly coaxing her with “madam, we can get your job done in a matter of minutes”. Her story ended with her decision to bury her recently awakened conscience; however, it set me thinking.


Just a few days prior when I landed in Delhi, someone almost hit me on my head trying to take his luggage out even before the flight had come to a halt. He wasn’t the only one doing that of course! And everyone had switched on their phones and looking for signal even before the cabin crew had announced that we are allowed to switch on our ‘mobile devices’. That is like running in a car to get to your destination faster!

It’s funny how even though the procedure for applying a passport has been simplified yet our first question before applying/renewing is, “Do you know anyone who can get it done?”. It’s so deep rooted that we try to use “approach” for “preferential treatment” even while paying an arm and leg for 5 star health care.

And even though I’m no behavioral economist, that’s when I saw a pattern emerge. However, bizarre the act may seem to appear, that such behaviour in itself is only a symptom and not the real problem. And that “problem” simply put – is scarcity. And it’s not about who specifically is in that situation either, put anyone in that situation and the behavior would be bordering irrational.

Let’s take another example, deadlines and scarcity of time, often increase motivation and concentration. But usually we pay a price for that amplified focus: anything that falls outside the scope of that time-limited task gets ignored or put off to a later date and might also lead to making more mistakes.

And the book, Scarcity: Why having too little means so much, explains it quite well, “Scarcity creates a mindset that perpetuates scarcity. The scarcity mindset, in contrast, is a contextual outcome, more open to remedies. Rather than a personal trait, it is the outcome of environmental conditions brought on by scarcity itself, conditions that can often be managed. The more we understand the dynamics of how scarcity works upon the human mind, the more likely we can find ways to avoid or at least alleviate the scarcity trap.”

But at the same time, there is always a silver lining to everything, isn’t it? But let’s leave that for our next post.

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