News and Tribune


July 22, 2011

STAWAR: He doesn’t share

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Last week, our 4-year-old grandson formally announced to everyone, “I don’t share.” His two older sisters readily agreed that “no sharing” was his standard policy, with the only exception being if he was going to miss out on something he really wanted.

In that case, he temporarily suspends his no-sharing rule. A friend’s 3-year-old foster granddaughter shows similar tendencies. If just grabbing something doesn’t work, she declares she wants to share and then grabs it again.

I’ll have to try that.

All this dearth of sharing reminds me of the “Joey Doesn’t Share Food!” episode of the television series “Friends,” in which a woman, dating the Joey Tribbiani character, causally takes some food off his plate. Like a dog guarding his bowl, Joey reacts with sudden rage.

Our older two granddaughters, after engaging in a fierce life-long competition for nearly everything, have finally decided to call a cease-fire and to share all their belongings. They still have a problem deciding who get to go first and for how long, but they are improving.

Psychologists study sharing behavior use the so-called Dictator Game, in which one person [the dictator] receives something [usually money or food] and then may either keep all of it or share it with another person. Results consistently reveal that people usually share — often giving up to half of what they received.

According to Psychology Today blogger Daniel Hawes, one Dictator Game study found that 20 percent of college students gave nothing, 60 percent gave up to half their stake and 20 percent gave exactly half of their holdings. Women generally tend to give more than men and people can be primed by various means to share more. For example, using words that evoke thoughts of sharing, or telling a story like the Good Samaritan, helps increase sharing.

Hawes also reported on a study conducted by Harvard researchers Peter Blake and David Rand at the Boston Science Museum. These experimenters gave young children stickers to either keep or share. Only 30 percent of 3-year-olds decided to share, while more than 70 percent of 6-year-olds shared their stickers. Results also showed that all the children, regardless of age, decided how much to share based on how much they liked the possession. Overall, they gave away about 10 percent less of their favorite stickers.

Until about age 4, most sharing that takes place is not done out of empathy, but rather from imitation, or as part of the play process. Around 4 years of age, the child develops a sense of empathy and then sharing takes on a moral dimension as an obligatory aspect of social relationships.

Often times, people wish to share certain things, precisely because they believe the item is valuable. I once shared two of my favorite books on comedy writing with a young man who was interested in humor. He ended up leaving town without returning them. I didn’t think that was very funny.

Once after back surgery our nephew was laid up for the summer and we sent him a box of videos we had taped of the British science fiction comedy “Red Dwarf.” We wanted to share this show with him, but were a little concerned about what he might think. Fortunately we created another fan and he returned all of the tapes.

This desire to share something we value may be one of reasons why many people engage in illegal file sharing. Although it may violate copyright laws, it still seems altruistic. In 2003, despite a onslaught of lawsuits, a New York Times poll indicated that only 36 percent of Americans believed file sharing was “never acceptable.” The Times said this highlights a major disparity between “the legal status of file sharing and the apparent cultural consensus on its morality.”

People are frequently placed in situations where sharing is mandatory, like sharing an office or having a college roommate. Roommate issues are among the most common problems addressed in college counseling centers. An online survey found that 60 percent of employees said their co-workers’ annoying habits were the number one source of stress in the workplace.

Being inconsiderate and personality conflicts account for most problems in sharing space, but specific complaints usually include: 1. Taking or using personal items [including food] without permission; 2. Being messy; 3. Violating personal space; 4. Unwillingness to compromise; and 5. different styles. Whether it is someone stealing your stapler or eating your last package of Ramen Noodles, sharing personal space can be very challenging. One British study suggests that with smaller family sizes, more people are growing up without learning to share and this may account for increased difficulty sharing later in life.

Children often receive joint gifts that must be shared, and this may aggravate existing sibling-rivalry issues. For example on the television series “Everybody Loves Raymond,” there was an episode in which the two grown brothers are arguing over a racing set they both received for Christmas as children. The older brother says that he always wanted to set the track up just like the one on the cover of the box, with the picture of that “happy brotherless boy.”

Some parents set rules for how sharing is to take place or establish mechanisms to assure equity, while others let the children fight it out among themselves. Some authorities think that giving joint gifts is useful since they give children practice in sharing and taking turns that they might not get otherwise.

While sharing might rationally seem contrary to our best interest, it is an important lesson, since it is one of the main ways we create relationships. It is often very difficult to enjoy things alone. Lord Byron once wrote “All, who joy would win, must share it. Happiness was born a twin.”

For adults in a relationship, sharing things usually isn’t a problem, unless they decide to break up. In such situations, retired California Superior Court Judge Roderic Duncan suggests making a list of all the items jointly owned, assigning a value to each of them and then decide who is the logical owner. Having an established value can help both parties agree on what is an equitable split. When it comes to disputed items, the judge recommends flipping a coin, holding a sale or letting each party bid on the item in question.

Of course, the biggest problem is often deciding what items are actually jointly owned. One partner may have paid for an item and feels like it belongs to him or her, but they only had the money to do so because the other party was paying for rent, a car or utilities. These sort of disputes are much more complicated to untangle.

Growing up, my older brother was never much for sharing, unless it was my bicycle, after he destroyed his own, or the contents of my bank when he wanted something.

I’m tempted to say that he never really shared anything, but that wouldn’t be true. There was the chicken pox.

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at

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