What’s the Key to Longterm Survival?

Teresa Roberts
5 min readFeb 27


It’s Not What We’re Told

Pompeii (my photo)

Are humans selfish by nature?

Is there such a thing as a selfish gene? If we’re wired to survive at all costs, does being selfish boost our survival rates?

These are a few of the many questions I find myself contemplating.

It seems there has been no end to cruelty and lack of compassion down through the ages. Maybe it’s not even our fault. Maybe it is a design flaw that we can’t get rid of because we’re programmed to survive. Our culture also encourages selfishness by relying on competition rather than cooperation to reach goals and enrich individuals. We’ve long promoted the notion of the survival of the fittest.

Certainly, the meanest and most competitive are often the winners. Whereas those who fight for justice and equality are often martyred.

We seem to have trouble sharing as well. Our coffers can be full to overflowing yet we’re often unwilling to share the spoils with the destitute. Recently, a boat off the coast of Italy sank killing dozens of migrants including children. As refugees fleeing poverty, starvation, and war tend to do, they risked their lives and lost. Yet, the countries with a bountiful supply of food and essentials are reluctant even angry when called upon to share. We love to talk about the sanctity of life but aren’t particularly able to show proper reverence for the lives of those in need nor willing to shoulder responsibility.

Those in need are often viewed as a threat, merely trying to horn in on our chances of survival.

After all, everyone wants a long fruitful life where we not only go to bed with full stomachs and a roof over our heads, but we also have more than we need stockpiled in the garage, tucked away under our beds, and stored in our basements.

Hoarding money, food, water, and shelter is viewed as a human right. Definitely if you worked for it , but often when you’ve stolen it from others as well.

The winner takes all in the game of life because that’s what defines a winner. High stakes demand big payoffs. If you’re at the top of your game, you get whatever you want. Kings, aristocrats, tycoons, and the super wealthy are rarely held to the same standards, laws, or cultural expectations as the rest of us.

Who wouldn’t want to be part of that illustrious group of privileged individuals? Right?

So, history repeats itself over and over again. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer. The rich wage war, conquer, and steal resources from those who have things that they want. In part due to the instinctual desire to survive this crap shoot called life.

Sometimes, those without get to eat the crumbs that fall from a rich country’s table but usually they are treated with disdain.

No amount of suffering is sufficient to make those with plenty feel enough compassion to share. I mean really share. We might give a few crumbs but even that causes a lot of strife among the givers.

We tell ourselves that it’s not our job to feed the world, save every child on the planet, or take care of the homeless.

We have our hands full taking care of our own. If we give it all away, there will be nothing left for us. We have a strong will to survive. It’s so strong that we wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat worrying about the unpredictability of life. If we’re not careful, we’ll lose our own position of safety.

Life is hard and most of us have been traumatized in one way or another.

Yet, in this milieu of confusion that takes place in our prewired brains we miss a very important point. So important as a matter of fact that sociologists have labeled it as the key to long-term survival of societies.

It’s called cooperation.

Without cooperation, which is highly underrated, our chances of survival are greatly diminished. And while it feels good to hoard and collect, tribes have fared far better when they stop competing and start cooperating.

The very nature of competition is centered around defeat.

We must defeat someone else. Everyone is seen as an opponent. Collaboration is far less likely in the competitive mode.

Humans have survived because of cooperation and learning from one another.

We’ve progressed largely due to those two things as well. Our early ancestors didn’t go extinct because they cooperated rather than competed with one another. When we share our experiences, ideas, and problem-solving skills we tend to do better, stay safer, and even flourish.

Defeating others is counterproductive.

Yet, we struggle with this notion. Thus war proliferates, children starve, and destruction permeates our world. We flounder when it comes to solving problems and end up resorting to violence more often than not. We build impressive societies and then tear them down. We gain knowledge and then lose it. We lift people out of poverty and then allow them to drown in boats while fleeing dangerous environments.

Not religion, science, nor our better selves will save us from repeatedly going down the same path.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could tame our selfish gene for lack of a better term. Can you even imagine the benefits that caring and sharing would deliver to the children we insist on bringing into this world? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if nobody ever had to flee danger in a boat and drown at sea with their babies in their arms?

Maybe if we keep evolving there will come a time when being alive is actually a blessing. If we don’t first drive our species to extinction, that is.

Teresa is an author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. You can find her books on Amazon.



Teresa Roberts

Teresa is an author, world traveler, and professional myth buster. She’s also a top writer on climate change and the future.