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Does growing up in a recession make you nicer?

Those that Enter adulthood at times of recession are actually nicer people, is the claim by a study that’s been done by some US Psychologists. It really the case though?

A psychologist here in the UK who is doing similar work is Steven Sylvester and Steven’s on the line with me this morning

Steven is it a reasonable thing to suppose that people would be nicer people if they grew up during a recession?

SS: Well I think a recession Paul, makes you much more reflective and you begin to think what is my purpose for being here, what can I do to contribute beyond just myself because my normal way of thinking, get to university, get a job, come out of that transition and then move straight into work has been somewhat affected by the nature of the macro economics’

PH: So you kind of suspect it’s because the accepted foundations and patterns of life outside a recession are shaken, people have to stop and consider, what is life all about?

SS: Yeah absolutely the recession brings us into a different perspective.

We are shaken because our normal pattern is disrupted; particularly in this study young teenagers and people in their early 20s are more affected because they’re in transition. They’re thinking about what they’re going to do for their career, they’re coming out of university, out of college, out of school and then all of a sudden faced with the reality that the opportunities of getting work isn’t the same or doesn’t match the expectations they thought they would have coming out of their studies.

PH: Isn’t there a thought that this area of desperation would make people more self-focussed and more interested in finding an answer for themselves rather than looking at the bigger picture and caring about others. Wouldn’t this desperation drive them to be selfish?

SS: Well I actually found the opposite Paul. What you get is people being more collective. They’re having more shared consciousness about what’s going on because everyone is going through the same experience which is, things are tough and people are having to work longer and harder for less money.

There is less money in the market, you know a huge disparate society where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. And with that it leads to greater understanding about where humanity is going.

PH: Almost in a sense what we would have called in the past a Blitz Spirit, when faced with a common difficulty, we are all sharing in this difficulty and we all pull together to make a difference

SS: Yeah absolutely if you look at the business world because of the catastrophic nature of the global financial meltdown you’ll see businesses changing from a complete money driven shareholder value. We must make profit. We must push, we must go harder. In fact, even an amoral perspective. They’ve moved away from that now to become more community focussed where what is our responsibility to our people, staff and community? They’re taking a much more holistic approach to understanding how their mission as a business can be much more purposeful about helping communities rather than just focus on making money ‘at all costs’.

PH: It does sound as though that old adage about materialism killing community and that sort of thing, it does make it sound as if that’s valid then. It does make it sound like you get a better community spirit and a better-shared responsibility when you actually have less

SS: Yes, well there’s something about being human, which is about connecting with people beyond the superficial where it’s like; what car do you drive? what house do you live in? It’s just the materialistic world is not something that gives us a deep resolve in terms of who we are and what we would like to achieve in our lives.

What I have found in sport where I work with World Champion athletes that are pushing to be the best, harder and faster, bolder - the realisation that to actually cross the line and be the best, you need to be free of yourself and not so self-absorbed and self obsessed. We need to flick the switch to an almost selfless pursuit of your goals and when you go self less you actually achieve more because you’re not doing it just for yourself. There’s something limiting about striving to be the best for yourself, there is something much more heartfelt and warming about doing something for others just as if it were parent watching their son or daughter at their sports day.

PH: That actually you push it away from yourself, your own ego and you push it towards the broader picture, as we would say. In the work that you’ve done you’ve come up with this term withoutEGO, it is that sense of looking beyond yourself and looking for the benefit for others. I wonder what that says about our Government, not just our Government but Governments all around the world as they push to recover from recession and drive economic growth and generation of wealth, I wonder what that says for the benefit of society. Is that necessarily the best way for society to develop and grow after this last recession?

SS: Well that’s a great point and that’s probably much debated but I think if you learn from the South African example, Nelson Mandela and the whole South African Ubuntu philosophy which is all about sharing and connecting in your community whether your black or white it’s about finding the humanness about people and what you do and how you do things and surely out of this incredibly difficult global situation, we’re tasked with the same thing which is; what can we do to get more out of each other, to share more and to find a way of being more successful without it being ‘at all costs’? Because the ‘win at all costs’ narrative, you know the bigger bolder shareholder value, where people are trying to get more out of things, it just leads to desperation and to an extreme situation.

You know sports a great example of this because I work with athletes where you would think that being selfish and being totally self-absorbed would be the way to go. I must achieve this I must get this. I must win this. I must win at the Olympics or win international sport, whatever it may be that actually what I found is, if you bring it all back and you try to get to a much more spiritual understanding of what you are here for. What is your purpose? What do you want to do by winning? How can you help others? How can you give to others beyond yourself in pursuit of your own goal? and when you get people thinking like that, something incredible happens, they draw people in and people become happier and freer

PH: It is the biblical adage of putting others first and being willing to have an attitude that serves others and not just yourself and perhaps even serving others before yourself. It makes for a better life and a better society and apparently when we lose out materialistically because of the recession we start to remember that. What that does mean for the governments push to get us back on the economic road of success and push so hard to get down that road. Does that mean for those that have been affected by cuts that have been made to accomplish it. It’s a big question isn’t it. If you want to get in touch and give us your comments please do. If you want to find out more about Steven Sylvester perspective on this, find out by having a look at his website which is

Steven, interesting points you make today, thank you for joining us.

SS: Thank you Paul, have a good day

Paul Hammond Show on UCB

Interview with Steven Sylvester, Chartered Psychologist.

Tuesday 20th May 2014


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