Mutual-Improvement (Definition #2)

April 29, 2006

I've borrowed the term "mutual-improvement" as a twist on the traditional field of self-improvement, and originally inspired by Benjamin Franklin's description of his amazingly productive Junto:

I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year, [1727] I had form'd most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual-improvement, which we called the Junto; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss'd by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory; and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.

If you can get past the stiff puritanical tone of this passage, it talks about something pretty radical.  Where in our society today do we have an opportunity to meet regularly with our peers to work on the mutual-improvement of all members?  From this Junto that Benjamin Franklin put together (and which continues to this day in the form of the American Philosophical Society) sprouted the volunteer fire department, lending libraries, improved security (night watchmen), and a public hospital.

A similar, but slightly more corporate-sounding and slick, term that is familiar to most people is the "win-win" situation where all participating members benefit from a given situation.

The power of mutual-improvement and win-win situations is that all members of a group can act selfishly and selflessly at the same time.  There's no need to implement a complicated set of forced rules or ethics that keep people in line, as the situation itself allows everyone to come out ahead merely by acting out of their own self-interest. 

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