This essay by Julian Edney is a few years old, but I just found it today. And it’s well worth reading, especially if you share my concern that we live in an increasingly uncivil society.
Here’s a juicy excerpt:
So, do you want to find out if your friends, coworkers or spouse understand the common good? Some do, some don’t. Try a simple game you can play called the Nuts Game — with things you find around the house.
Three people sit around a kitchen bowl. You, the fourth person, with a timer, start off placing ten small items in the bowl — quarters, dollar bills, or nuts. Tell the three players the goal is that each of them get as many items as possible. Tell them one other thing before they start: every ten seconds (you have your watch ready) you will look in the bowl and double the number of items remaining there by replenishing from an outside source (a separate pile of quarters on the side).
I used to run this game with college students. You would think the players would have figured out that if they had all waited, not taking anything out of the bowl for a while, the contents of the bowl would soon have grown very big, automatically doubling every ten seconds. Eventually they could each have divided up a pot that had grown large. But in fact, sixty percent of these groups never made it to the first 10-second replenishment cycle. Group members grabbed all they could as soon as they could, leaving nothing in the bowl to be doubled (destroying the common good), and each player wound up with none or a few items. I saw the bowl knocked to the floor in the greedy melee. And even if allowed to try again, not all groups cooperatively worked out a patient, conserve-as-you-go playing style, necessary for eventual big scores. They didn’t trust each other.