Do you care about a stranger? Let’s say you are in a crowded place such as a shopping mall or a movie theatre. You most certainly not know most of the people around. They are strangers and you probably don’t care much about them as long as they are not ‘bothering’ you.

Now, imagine a terrorist has taken hostage of 100 people inside the mall. You may or may not be in that group of 100, but suddenly you feel empathy for those strangers. You extend help to perfect strangers. Social cooperation, you say.

An unexpected situation changed the paradigm. 

But when did that shift in our mind happen? Why do we need an emergency to behave the way we behave? Sociologists and economists talk about the ‘invisible hand’ that takes care of conflict among strangers and ensure the social cooperation of a greater order. But do we always need a trigger to get the ‘invisible hand’ to act?

Would you choose to watch a movie in a movie hall sitting alone or with a house full of strangers? If you are like most of us, you probably would like it with strangers. How is it different when the hall is full of other strangers? You would probably not even speak to any of them, but maybe you would stand in a queue behind a crowd at the popcorn counter, or wonder why people bring noisy kids inside a movie hall? 

How come the experience changes in a crowd even when you do not have any active interest in interacting with them? Perhaps that ability to shift our mindset when needed has made us the most ‘successful’ animal on this planet.


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