Biologists define social behavior as one organism interacting with another member of its own species. Humans are very social animals that interact with other members of our own species all the time. And I don’t even want to think about how many more social interactions we can engage in these days with the advent of social media.

Social evolutionists have divided all these social behaviors into four basic categories, based on whether the behavior is good or bad for the organisms involved. Social behavior can be either a benefit or a cost for the organisms: that means good or bad for you, and good or bad for the other person.

Let’s start with lowest, most despicable, category of behavior: spite. Spite is going out of your way to ruin someone else’s day, and benefits nobody.

The second-lowest category of social interaction is called selfish. This benefits you at the cost of the other person, and sometimes this seems to be the most prevalent of human social behaviors. Oftentimes, behavior that seems spiteful may actually be selfish, as some people make themselves feel better by making others feel bad.

Next on the list is altruistic behavior. This is when you go out of your way to help another, sometimes to the extent that you may risk your own life. While this is noble in the eyes of many, it is still not considered the highest form of social behavior, because it still only benefits one of the two organisms.

Finally, the most evolved and beneficial type of social behavior is: cooperation. Cooperation is good for both organisms so that everyone benefits. Cooperation is you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Cooperation is teamwork and working toward a common goal. Cooperation allows organisms to achieve things far greater than they could ever achieve by themselves. Cooperation is truly the highest and most evolved type of social behavior.

So today, when you’re interacting with other members of your own species, whether on social media or in person, ask yourself where your behavior lies. Are you being spiteful or selfish? Are you being altruistic or cooperating? You really can make the world a better place one social interaction at a time.

With a Perspective, I’m J.D. Hager.

J.D. Hager is a writer and middle school science teacher.


When I was 16, I left quiet Syracuse, New York to spend the summer as an exchange student in Brazil. I arrived to find my host family lived in a huge, modern duplex apartment with a gigantic terrace and panoramic city views. For help they had two live-in maids and a cook. Somehow I’d left middle-class American life and landed in unimaginable Brazilian luxury.

Newly arrived, I wanted to walk around and explore. My host father explained that just up the hill from our apartment building was a favela — a slum. It wasn’t safe for me to wander around. I wasn’t used to such restrictions, so I insisted. He acquiesced and mapped out a route — down the hill. He also sent my host brother with me, who made sure I didn’t carry my camera where people could see it.

That summer I tasted crazy tropical fruits and listened to gorgeous Brazilian music. I swam at private swim clubs with pools the size of lakes and spoke lilting Portuguese. I also walked streets lined with beggars and kids who never went to school. I discovered the favela next door was considered upscale because some of the houses had running water — although none had electricity. I saw how people live in a country where a few are very wealthy, but most are very poor.

I loved Brazil. It was warm and casual and sensuous in a way that upstate New York never would be. But what I most took away from that summer were the walls. Tall, concrete, topped with broken glass and razor wire, the walls surrounded our apartment building, our private school, our swim club and everywhere I went.

At summer’s end, I flew home. Starting senior year at my town’s functioning public high school wasn’t glamorous, but after Brazil, it felt like a civic miracle.

Electricity, running water, public schools — I think the job of government is to provide the foundation upon which a society can peacefully coexist. I want the people around me to have opportunity — partly because I think it’s just, and partly because I want everyone to have a stake in the outcome. I’ve seen what it looks like the other way, and I never want to live surrounded by those concrete walls again.

With a Perspective, I’m Evan Sagerman.

Evan Sagerman is an architect and author living in San Francisco.

Adele Grunberg

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Not because they are sublime basketball players which they most certainly are. Rather, I’ve been thinking about what they are not. They are not successful communicators.

Durant and Westbrook were teammates for eight years on the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. They appeared to be close. They did post-game interviews together. They called each other brother.

But in the summer of 2016, on Independence Day, Durant rattled the basketball world. He left the Thunder and signed with the Golden State Warriors. This was momentous because it left Oklahoma City without one of its stars and enriched Golden State with yet another MVP caliber player. But what was more extraordinary to me was the way in which Durant notified Westbrook of his decision: he sent him a text.

What’s happened since has played out very publicly. Westbrook was blindsided by what Durant did, no doubt because he left their team, but surely because of how Durant told him. I’ve repeatedly asked myself how Durant could have notified Westbrook about this consequential decision by text. I’m wondering why he didn’t call him and make a plan to tell him in person.

And ever since, the controversy has raged. The two men have not talked. Westbrook, a fiery athlete, ignores questions about the matter and talks about fashion instead; Durant, a quieter man, acts as if he is unfazed by the whole thing. Recently, the two teams met for a game in Oklahoma City. Durant, who had been treated like a hero before, was now booed and cursed by the fans. On court, the only apparent contact between the two was a bump and a sneer.

And the thing is, this whole ugly mess could have been avoided had Durant just picked up the phone or knocked on Westbrook’s door instead of sending that text. It can be difficult to tell a friend bad news. The teller may be understandably fearful of the friend’s reaction. But communicating such news in an impersonal, ill-considered way, often results in hurt feelings and lost friendships.

With A Perspective, I’m Adele Grunberg.

Adele Grunberg is a mediator who specializes in resolving conflict through effective communication.


It’s baseball season again, a time when the dawning of spring stirs something in my family.

I played baseball as a kid, and my two sons loved it, too. My wife cheered and I coached – that was our family ritual, our spring, our summer.

But when they entered high school, both my boys quit baseball. It wasn’t burn-out, exactly, but the fact that other sports — rugby, surfing, mountain biking — were a lot more fun. What wasn’t fun was losing that connection with my boys; the hours spent together trying to master the game.

I missed it more than they did. I was lost without a giant equipment bag to haul around. So I joined the Men’s Senior Baseball League. This is the real stuff: hardball, played on college fields, even full-on “costumes,” as my wife calls our uniforms.

Except it’s for ancients like me.

Our player-manager has but one functioning eye. Mike, our beautifully athletic centerfielder, has an artificial hip. Ronnie, our leftfielder, has two artificial hips. It’s a great time, but it feels strange to be the only one in the family still playing baseball.

Now, it’s my sons who are coaching me. Griff and I play catch to bring my arm back to life every spring. Last month, I brought our gloves on a road trip to visit Will at college.

The gloves almost didn’t get out of the trunk. But on the last day of our vacation, as we were leaving his freshman dorm room and saying goodbye, Will turned to me and said, “I miss baseball. I wish I had my glove down here.”

“I have your glove, Sweetie, it’s in the car,” I said.

Beaming, he put on the old glove, marveling at how small it felt. “Thanks, Dad. I really missed this,” he said. “It’s…like…a part of me.”

We played catch for just a minute, and then I had to wave goodbye and head home, with a lump in my throat.

I’m glad I’m still playing baseball. But I’m even gladder to know that Will gets it. Years from now, when spring rolls around and I’m too old to play, it will be Will who will haul out the equipment bag, and teach his own kids how to play.

With a Perspective, I’m Gordon Wright.

Gordon Wright is a publicist and freelance writer. He lives in Marin.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

The word ‘tragedy’ is built from two Greek roots: ‘tragos’, meaning ‘goat’ and ‘oide’, meaning ‘ode’. It literally means ‘goat song’, referring to the dramatic plays of the ancient Greeks named such for the actors who dressed in the skins of goats to represent satyrs, goat-like mythological deities.

A tragedy was characterized by a protagonist whose flaw in character leads to a series of events that cause his downfall, a trope that began with the Greek dramatists, reached an apotheosis in the plays of Shakespeare, and prevails in both our contemporary literary realm as well as in the real world of power and politics.

In public figures today, we recognize the pride of Achilles, the rashness of Oedipus, the impulsiveness of Romeo, the ambition of Macbeth, and the greed of Walter White, all of whose fatal flaws portended their inevitable ruination.

Inevitable, because the fate of the tragic figure was already predestined -not because the gods had willed it or because a hostile universe was acting against him — but because fate is the manifestation of disposition and personality. “A man’s character is his fate,” said Heraclitus. Blinded by self-pity, our tragic figure sees it differently.

Ranting and raving, he rails against what he perceives are the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and weaves a web of paranoid conspiracies to divert attention from his own infractions, but the audience knows what he will learn before his end: that wherever you go, there you are.

After witnessing hours of torment and the demise of a sad and pathetic character, ancient Greek audiences found comic reprieve in the satyr plays that followed the tragedies. These comedic parodies provided a much-needed catharsis for the emotionally exhausted audience.

And though those specific types of plays have disappeared from our own modern theatres, their spirit remains in our late-night TV comedy sketches and comedians, whose lampoons of real-life figures provide the same for us: the salve necessary to heal from the daily exposure to the tragedies unfolding before us.

With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an animal activist and author living in Oakland.

Marilyn Englander

A thank you note is a talisman of appreciation for another person. Simple, yet powerful .

In my classroom, we focus on gratitude by practicing the art of the handwritten note. So humble, such clout, the letter of thanks in a person’s own hand.

I require students to master friendly letter form. They protest. They already thanked the field trip drivers in person. The museum docent was just doing her job. The person who organized the speech tournament was paid. But the guest speaker spent a couple hours preparing his presentation, woke up early, put on special clothes, drove 30 minutes, gave up a morning for us. We honor his gift by spending five minutes penning words of thanks. The kids can’t figure out a good objection to this argument, so they dutifully write their notes.

Ah, and the letters need to be done with care. The writing straight, no crossed-out mistakes, the word “sincerely” spelled correctly. No binder paper, but real cards. Written in ink, with more than just the words “thank you,” and including a few original details to make the gratitude feel personal.

The thoughtful gesture of a handwritten thank you radiates goodwill both directions. And it packs a wallop.

A dad comes to pick up his son and mentions how impressed he was to get written thank you’s. The visiting librarian calls to say she has hung all the notes in her kitchen. The tournament organizer mentions his delight with our cards in the competition newsletter. My students beam.

A card is much more powerful than a text, an email, a voice message. It has presence. We hardly register the computer-generated thanks sent by charities who have received our donations. A text or an email is lost in the crowd of other messages zapped at us.

But in the anonymous mess of junk mail that arrives daily through the mail slot, a small envelope of thick creamy paper, addressed by hand, a real stamp in the corner — this catches our eye. We slit the seal and feel attention, care, reciprocal generosity. Magic.

With a Perspective, this is Marilyn Englander.

Marilyn Englander lives in San Raphael.

Peter Gavin New

After 32 years teaching, I will retire in June, and lose a big part of who I am. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to be here. Yet still, I know I’ll be losing a lot.

There’s a certain rhythm to a school year; how at the beginning of every poetry class I poll the kids and find out most of them dislike poetry. So I point out how song lyrics are poems, and we listen to and analyze songs, and then we write our poems, and invariably, people flood to the front to share their poems. Hate poetry? Not so much.

In ‘Of Mice and Men’, when George is forced to shoot Lennie out of love, unwilling to make the same mistake Candy did letting someone else kill his dog, there is an outcry of emotion in the class – often tears, even wailing – that makes me feel so privileged to do what I do.

And when we read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, and the students see the depth of Atticus’s wisdom in teaching Scout compassion and empathy, and Scout turns to her father and says, “Mr. Tate was right. It’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird.” Man, that gets me every time. It’s like I’m hearing those lines for the first time, just like them.

And ‘Into the Wild’: How certain students realize how despite the stupidity and arrogance of what Chris McCandless does, he also attempts an act of great beauty few people ever achieve, and how the real tragedy of his story is the clarity he seeks so passionately only comes at the end of his life, when it is too late.

My biggest joy is watching my students learn through literature how life is a tenuous gift to be held and appreciated every moment because before you know it, you’re older and the present is only memory.

With a Perspective, I’m Pete Gavin.

Pete Gavin teaches eighth grade English at Kent Middle School in Kentfield.

Susan Dix Lyons

Their faces push forward through my dreams.

The young man who had been shot, his crooked-fixed stare both hard and scared. The woman who had been assaulted outside her apartment, a bright purple hematoma crowning her head. The hulking man, tattooed, with a wide red gash running vertically down the length of his leg like a sliced tenderloin.

I was rounding patients with the attending trauma surgeon at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. In our group, were a 4th-year resident, a half-dozen medical students, and a couple of nurse practitioners – an early-dawn battalion at the only Level One Trauma Center in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you live in the Bay Area and get in a car crash, or get shot, or confront a medical emergency that rattles you deeply enough – this is where you come.

And on this day I am here, a shadow, watching you, and watching the people who are tasked with caring for you, struggling with my urge to kneel at each of your bedsides. I am learning that GSW means gun-shot wound, and MVC means motor vehicle crash. And I am learning this:

If you are that woman who was pulled from your car after a collision; as you lie flat on the gurney with your neck in a brace worrying frantically for your baby and the daughter who were with you in that car. If you are that woman alone in that room with your shivering heart and your now unfamiliar body – you may, or may not, remember this.

There is a surgeon who stops to listen to you. It’s near the end of her rounds, and the morning has been long, but she lays her hand on your shoulder. She looks you full in the face and says, “I know that you’re scared. This is scary. Your baby and your daughter are going to be OK, and we’re going to take good care of you.”

When the surgeon says these words, I feel a flood of relief and gratitude. I feel that I am you, and I no longer need to kneel at your bedside. I just hope that you will remember. I hope that you will remember that you are in good hands – hands born for this moment to carry you through.

With a Perspective, I’m Susan Dix Lyons.

Susan Dix Lyons is Co-Founder and Design Director of a health design organization in San Francisco.

Paul Staley

Hello, I’m Paul and I am a member of the coastal elite. I’ve been told I live in a bubble.

Now if this really were a 12-step group you’d all greet me in unison and then I would share my tale of woe. But that’s not going to happen.

Instead of expressing regret, I want to give you a tour of my bubble.

When I leave for work and walk down my block I pass by homes where men live with their husbands and women with their wives, because in my bubble, people can love as they choose without fear of persecution and harassment.

When I get to the BART station I don’t expect everything to be in working order. But there is one thing I can count on: the train I board will be filled with people drawn from every continent. The family connections in my bubble extend to the four corners of the Earth.

My commute takes me under the bay and then emerges above ground in West Oakland. Here is the evidence that not everything in my bubble is state of the art and new and shiny. I can see what happens when jobs leave and the government response is inadequate or misguided. In my bubble the plight of the white working class has been the struggle of the black and brown working class for decades.

My commute ends in downtown Oakland, a place where all the challenge and promise of urban America intersect. In my bubble the work continues and it is never finished.

In the evening when I return home, depending on the season, I walk in sunshine or fog, in the wind or in the rain, and this reminds me that my bubble is part of something larger: a fragile green and blue sphere that calls for stewardship, not exploitation.

This bubble is where I live with the people I love and it is where I will take my stand. I am not looking for guidance on how to accept the things I cannot change. Instead, I am vowing to change the things I cannot accept.

With a Perspective, this is Paul Staley.

Paul Staley lives in San Francisco.


First, it was all that vacation time.

Then, the 35-hour work week.

Now, the French have established “the right to disconnect.”

Yes, a new law requires that employers negotiate with their employees on when they can send them emails. After 7 pm? No, no, that’s too late! I’ve already started my aperitif!

Coming from Silicon Valley, as I do, at first this sounded crazy. After all, around here we joke that “flexible working hours” means “you can put in your 18-hour day whenever you’d like.” We’re inventing the future: we don’t have time for vacations.

But then I reflected on the years I spent as an ex-pat working in Switzerland. Work there was confined to the regular workweek and only rarely spilled over to the weekend. More than that, stores closed at noon on Saturday and didn’t open again until Monday.

This was really annoying at first. My wife and I worked all week, which meant we had to cram our shopping into Saturday morning. What a pain. But eventually we came to appreciate everything being closed. We couldn’t shop. We couldn’t run errands. We had to take a break.

Over time we settled in and learned to do what everyone else did — enjoyed the weekend as a time for family and friends, a time for hikes in the mountains and lunches in the garden.

Living in Switzerland was wildly different from what we were used to in Silicon Valley. People worked hard just like at home, but life was somehow… less hectic.

Work wasn’t the be-all and end-all: my wife was once eating a sandwich at her desk when a colleague came by and lectured her on the importance of taking a proper lunch break. And everyone took all their vacation days: not to do so was considered unhealthy.

And yet, the Swiss economy is the envy of the world. And productivity, a key measure of economic health, is higher in France than in Germany or Japan.

So maybe those lazy French are on to something: time away from work can actually be good for you and good for the economy.

With a Perspective, I’m Keith Van Sickle.

Keith Van Sickle is a tech executive and author who splits his time between Silicon Valley and France.

Sandhya Acharya

A new immigrant in a new country has a lot to learn. The practical things are easy to master. It is the cultural differences that is the real challenge.

I grew up in India where sharing a cup of tea with someone is a much revered tradition. When you visit someone, your host is not just offering you a hot cup of beverage, he is offering you his time and attention. He is letting you know that you are worth his indulgence and are welcome at his home.

What I didn’t know was that an invitation for tea or coffee at your house could be inferred to be much more. This knowledge I gained through Hollywood, google searches and one real life incident.

I was interning in a new city. My mentor and his wife had invited me over for dinner. I was just settling in, when in walked another guest. It was an Indian man who worked with me. I will call him Young Man. Young Man looked equally surprised. It was clearly a match-making ambush arranged by my gracious host.

I don’t remember much of our conversation at dinner. I was more worried if I was using the right fork for salad. Afterwards, Young Man gallantly offered to drop me home. After a long uneventful drive we finally reached my apartment. I stepped out and thanked him. Then, of course, remembering my manners proceeded to invite him, “Would you like to come up for some tea or coffee?”

Young Man looked at me mouth agape. Shock and confusion clouded his face. He gulped fearfully, bid an urgent goodbye and drove away like the wind.

It was days later that it all made sense. I was watching a movie that had a similar invitation by girl to boy, but with very different outcomes. This was followed by some frantic google searches and the final realization of the folly of my words. I turned red and was very glad that by then, Young Man was working in a building far away from mine.

Understanding that old cultural norms sometimes don’t translate to American soil can challenge immigrants, no more so than when an invitation to tea is just an invitation to tea.

With a Perspective, I’m Sandhya Acharya.

Sandhya Acharya grew up in Mumbai, worked in corporate finance and is now a writer and mother in the Bay Area.


In 1848, revolutions erupted across the continent of Europe. A variety of nationalists, socialists, and republicans joined forces to topple, if only temporarily, many of the continent’s leading conservative, monarchical regimes. These rebels were on a quest for things we, today, take as given rights, bedrock values of Western Civilization. Things like universal suffrage, religious toleration and representation for minority ethnic and religious groups. Soon, however, divisions developed, and the revolutionaries faltered.

Each country was unique, but in Austria it came down to national divisions. Historians point out that those who embraced a form of civic nationalism — in which one’s loyalty is based on a commitment to shared civic and political rights and values — lost out to those who championed the cause of a more exclusive “ethnic” national identity. The former fosters a setting for diverse backgrounds to coexist; the latter encourages divisions and ultimately oppression, as was the case for the minority groups of the ethnically diverse Austrian empire. The dominant Germans and Hungarians were intent on maintaining their ethnic hegemony at the expense of other national groups.

The uprisings of 1848 failed for a variety of reasons, but divisions along ethnic lines were significant. Ultimately this attempt at keeping the lid on diverse national interest groups ended with the empire when it went up in the flames of WWI.

I believe many of us in the US see the greater importance of what binds our nation together — not in terms of our ethnic national and cultural identity groups, but rather in those Western and uniquely American ideals of tolerance, equal protection under the law, and basic individual freedoms. In effect, our nation is strongest when we look to those binding ideals of America’s civic nationalism. If our nation holds true to those values, I think we’ll weather this rocky storm. If we succumb to divisions along ethnic lines and the preservation of some abstract “European American” ethnic and Christian nation at the expense of other groups, I fear we’ll go the way of Austria.

With a Perspective, I’m Josh Gnass.

Josh Gnass teaches high school history in Burlingame and lives in San Francisco.

Vidya Setlur

I vividly remember the darkened room, lit by monitors and computer screens; a technician quietly maneuvering the ultrasound transducer over my swollen belly. The pensive silence was interrupted by an army of doctors crowded around the image on the screen. “Bring a picture of a healthy heart to the parents!” shouted the senior doctor. I glanced at my husband and immediately knew. Despair tugged at my soul.

I was 4.5 months pregnant.

I’ve always been a feminist, brought up by two strong women – my mother and maternal grandmother. I grew up confident that I had the right to opportunity and choice. With a supportive husband, growing family, and a fulfilling career, I thought I was living life on my own terms.

The recent change in political landscape has threatened those beliefs. When President Trump reinstated the “global gag rule” surrounded by white men it seemed to trivialize the often-painful choice a woman has to make about her unborn child.

My husband and I discussed all our options with the doctors that fateful day. “Blue baby”, “three chambers”, “heart transplant” – phrases that still reverberate through my mind; The feeling of helplessness that I would do anything, just anything to fix my baby’s broken heart… and mine. We often portray pro-life vs. pro-choice as black or white. To me, it was a harrowing hue of grays.

I consider myself fortunate to live here. I have access to good healthcare that supports my reproductive decisions. I realize that not many women around the world are fortunate, and recent events are a stark reminder of the ramifications.

As I watch my two living children play in the backyard, I often think of the precious little one in the ultrasound picture now carefully tucked away in my drawer. The decision was never easy and will never be, but at the end, it was still my decision.

With a Perspective, I’m Vidya Setlur.

Vidya Setlur lives in Portola Valley and is a research scientist in Palo Alto.

Rachel Sarah

One February weekend, some friends invited my tween daughter and me on an East Bay hike, and I asked this guy I was dating to come along. He was a scientist who loved the outdoors, so I thought it might be fun. But the forecast was rain.

Chris wondered if I had a raincoat. My daughter had a waterproof coat with a hood and boots, but I didn’t.

“Let’s go to REI,” he said. I resisted.

He pulled out his faded REI card. “C’mon,” he said.

I might have muttered under my breath, “I can take care of myself just fine, thank you very much.” I’d been a single mom since my daughter was born, and I’d made it this far without a raincoat.

Besides, clothes-shopping is so personal, and if he’d wanted to buy me something so I’d like him more, that wasn’t necessary. I already like him a lot. He was a great cook. He loved kids. He built furniture. He made me laugh.

As I browsed the sales rack, he strolled over with a coat. “Try this on.” It was Gore-Tex and lightweight. It had pockets. But it was lime green, not my color. I wasn’t sure, but I wasn’t sure about a lot of things. Like if he was planning to pay for that coat, which would’ve been generous, but way over-the-top.

I told him I was fine with my fleece pullover. Maybe I was embarrassed, or maybe I felt like I didn’t I deserved a fancy raincoat.

“Please,” Chris said. “Just try it on.” I pushed one arm through the sleeve. The zipper had a storm flap. It fit perfectly.

“You look great,” he said. “How do you feel?”

I felt like I was about to cry on the thermal underwear. I couldn’t remember the last time a man wanted to take care of me. Or made me feel so loved. But I didn’t deserve this. It was too expensive. So I unzipped the coat.

He put his hand on my shoulder. “Let me do this for you.”

The tears pricked my eyelids. If I said, “yes,” wouldn’t I seem too needy?

“It’s just a raincoat,” Chris said.

But it was so much more.

With a Perspective, I’m Rachel Sarah.

Rachel Sarah and Chris married six years ago, and today they are the proud parents of two daughters – a toddler and a teen.

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