Darwin said the fittest survive, but what kind of fitness counts most? Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, researchers at Duke University’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, believe species that have thrived and successfully reproduced haven’t done it by beating up the competition.
Their new book, “Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity,” posits that species endure — humans, other animals and plants — based on friendliness, partnership and communication.
“Dogs are exhibit A,” Hare says. “They are the extremely friendly descendants of wolves. They were attracted to humans and became friendly to humans, and changed their behavior, appearance and developmental makeup. Sadly, their close relative, the wolf, is threatened and endangered in the few places where they live, whereas there are hundreds of millions of dogs…”
The authors also point to the success of bonobos, apes that are often confused with chimpanzees. Chimps make war, but bonobos are natural sharers. “The most successful bonobo males have more offspring than the most successful alpha male chimpanzees.”
What does all this mean for us? For humans to continue to evolve successfully, Hare says, “friendliness is the winning strategy. Social problems require social solutions. The secret to our species’ success is the same as it is with dogs and bonobos. We are the friendliest human species that ever evolved, which has allowed us to outcompete other human species that are now extinct. When that mechanism is turned off, we can become unbelievably cruel. When it is turned on, it allows us to win. We win by cooperation and teamwork. Our uniquely human skills for cooperative communication can be used to solve the hardest social problems.”
Can you recall a time when friendliness helped you get ahead? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.