#62 – Cooperation Human Superpower

Many mammals cooperate, but most stick to cooperating with relatives. Human beings are different in that we have learned to cooperate with people we don't know. This has made all the difference in our evolution. We're genetically wired for cooperation, but our ability to cooperate is weakening. 

Some of the essential ingredients we need in order to cooperate are disappearing. Where we used to rely on one another to learn skills and pass on knowledge, we now have Youtube. Where we used to make friends face to face and suffers ups and downs of relationships, we now click from one group of friends to another. Loose connections are replacing deeper connections and as a species, we are becoming isolated from one another. 

In order for humans to be motivated to cooperate, we need to need one another. With our basic needs being met or institutionalized, we simply don't need one another so much. That is showing itself in lack of volunteerism, people loosing patience, loyalties becoming extinct, and our diminished ability to take on real problems. 

Whether we're talking politics or local projects, when humans loose our ability (or desire) to cooperate, our effectiveness drops and our problems grow. 

The Age of Monkey Men

I'm not trying to be sexist here. I just like the way "Monkey Men" goes together. I'm referring to our Pliocene ancestors. Once upon a time, some scientists argue, we lived in trees. Trees provided safety from predators. This kept us alive, but in order to get the fruits (literally) of ground living, we would need to learn how to solve the predator problem. 

We our humanoid ancestors learned how to cooperate, there was virtually nothing we could not do. Those ancestors of ours could take down a mastodon. 

Out ability to cooperate has served us well ever since.

Technology is Replacing Our Need to Need One Another

My dad taught me to sweat pipes, put up drywall, and do basic electrical work. I looked forward to teaching my kids these skills. In fact, I filled my head with all kinds of skills I looked forward to passing down. Then came Youtube. 

The harsh reality is that my kids don't need me to teach them this stuff anymore. 30 minutes with YouTube and they could learn just about anything they want to learn. Our traditions of passing on knowledge from one generation to the next is evolving. 

I'm not saying the old ways are dead. There are still things - particularly in the way that we behave and the way we love one another - that can't yet be learned from Youtube, but a lot of the old standbys: how to change a tire, how to fix a toilet... it's all a click away. 

Bonds are Weakening

The truth is, we still need one another to solve big problems. When your school redraws the district lines or something in your community becomes a hazard, we need to come together. Groups still solve problems better than individuals. I'm not referring to bigger groups being bullies. I'm referring to bigger groups having more intellectual capital, more resources, and more ideas. Maybe more people to click on Youtube videos and learn stuff. 

The problem is, we're not learning the art of coming together the way we used to before Facebook "likes", Twitter retweets, and other clicking behaviors. If I agreed with you, that could be a big deal. It might require a real sacrifice instead of clicking a forward button or the like switch. It might mean getting messy and being there for you at a time that's awkward or inconvenient. I couldn't simply "unfriend" you if I no longer like your message. Breaking bond - the bond we need in order to cooperate with one another, is becoming very easy. 

Some Problems are Too Big

"Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear." The saying illustrates an optical illusion that happens when we look through a mirror that is angled to show us a wider image that we would normally see with our own eyes. 

Technology lets us see a ton of things that humans before us could never see. Even through the statistical reality is that violent crime is down, we see more of it because it's on TV, and so we think there is more of it - illusion. 

In a similar way, just because technology allows us to follow along with big political problems, we get tricked into thinking that we have any influence on those problems. In fact, we lose sight of local problems we CAN impact because we're often so focused on stuff we have zero chance of influencing. 

This is a problem mainly because it takes good people out of the local fight and into fighting over twitter arguments. It makes no difference if someone beats someone else in a Twitter show doen. It doesn't fix anything, but so many people would rather argue and fight in social media than pick up a hammer and help fix a neighbor's fence.

What's the Antidote?

The fact is, you and I believe in some of the same things. If you listen to this show and read my show notes, it means that some part of you believes in the fact that youth sports is a great platform for teaching character, developing stronger kids and adults, and making fun happen as part of our family's reality. 

We can come together as a team to make a difference, but only if we're ready and willing to put  some energy towards the problem in real life. What would happen if everyone put down the mobile phone turned off the TV and volunteered in their local Club? How much of an impact would that be if people actually got out into the community, joined forces, and advanced the agenda of improving character, development, and fun through youth sports? 

What would happen if we chose to respect one another as if we needed them? If we decided to stick with a program even when things get messy? 

The reality is, we're already genetically wired for this kind of messy, action oriented, cooperation. This is powerful stuff when we put it to work. 

When you're ready to put it to work in your community, find a local club you can volunteer with - or send me a note at podcast@thesoccersidelines.com. You can also reach me on Facebook at The Soccer Sidelines or on Twitter at SoccerSidelines. 

You and I have unique talents, but I bet if we put our heads (and talents) together, we could move the needle on bringing character, development, and fun to the next generation of kids. 


  • Boyd, Robert, and Peter J Richardson. “Culture and the Evolution of Human Cooperation.” US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 9 Nov. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781880/.
Invite others to Join our Community!

The Soccer Sidelines

Soccer Dad, Coach, and Club President who is devoted to developing kids and their families. With a diverse background in leadership in other settings, David is focused on empowering parents, players, and coaches to focus on the stuff that really matters in youth sports.