In his seventh book, Chocolate Peppers, Tab Edwards analyzes, with a dash of humor and a pound of heart, the choice of acting in your own self-interest and the ripples that act can make. It is necessary to act in our own self-interest, and people who don’t are sorely miserable for it. Breaking decisions down to the much simpler matter of “Is this in my self-interest? Yea or Nay.” Edwards applies the logic and rationale of contagious happiness and basic need fulfillment to justify acting in your own self-interest, certainly giving it psychological weight and validity. He’s further padded his argument with the implication that not acting in your own self interest is illogical and psychologically unhealthy (to focus on negative thoughts will only generate more negative thoughts).
After firmly planting the concept of acting in your own self-interest in logic, Edwards turns right around and says that just because something is logical doesn’t mean that we will do it. Sometimes it is the illogical decisions [where we say, “What the f**k!” and do something anyway] that really make us feel good, and that is positive work in your self-interest, as well (128). In those WTF moments Edwards instructs that we need to do a mini-risk assessment (Chapter 6 explores the concept of Risk explicitly), to ensure that our choices are made for our self-interest and not for selfish intentions. The most important element of acting within one’s self-interest is to not do so ignorantly of those who will directly and indirectly be affected by the consequences of your act.
About the suit…
Edwards opens with the least selfless thing a person could do, right after explaining how the standard airplane warning message, to parents to put your mask on before your child’s, generated the thesis of this book. If acting in your self-interest can be beneficial in a life-or-death situation, is that concept equally beneficial in various other slice-of-life situations? He ponders how buying a $5000 suit will increase his confidence or enhance his image, as it’s one he’s wanted for quite some time and he’s planning to wear it to a conference in front of a new audience. This scenario becomes the consistent focal point of decision-making as Edwards tries to answer the question of what greater, global consequences his purchase (and other decisions like it) has.
The suit scenario explores the value of a concept called transference. Is the presumed added value of the suit, increasing self-esteem and outward appearance to a room full of strangers, worth the real world cost of $5000 (and losing any other opportunities the money could have been used for)? Any super villain scouring the earth for a sacred artifact or jewel will tell you, “Hell, yes, it is!” Edwards concurs.
This boost in esteem and outward appearance will make you feel successful and happy; this happiness will show when you interact with others and it will spread. As long as spending that $5000 doesn’t take away from the basic human needs of someone who relies on you to provide them, purchasing the suit would be an act in your self-interest. If you’re the single parent of two children and $5000 is all you have in the world, for example, spending it all on a suit, even for a job interview, would be considered selfish, because the children’s needs would go unmet since all your money went toward the suit, even though the result of the suit could have a long-term, fiscal benefit.
Edwards’s desire is for us to understand that selflessness is a good and commendable act, but literal selflessness, where only the needs of others are priority and your own needs go unmet, is severely unhealthy. With examples walking the thin line between self-involved anarchy and total selfless submission to others’ whims, Edwards introduces The Chain of Self-Interest that plans out step-by-step how acting in your own self-interest generates happiness, which spreads to those around you and expands to those around them, to the far reaches of the world, at the concept’s maximum boundaries.
Exploring the nature of happiness and, ultimately, self-interest, Edwards determines three primary sources of happiness: heredity (temperament and personality), life circumstances (prosperity and health), and personal life choices. Outside of heredity and certain life circumstances, Edwards shows us we have more control over our happiness than we think, and he suggests if people would simply do what it is they feel like doing at the moment of the urge, genuine happiness would be generated and that happiness would spread. In order to maintain that happiness, though, people need to understand how to make decisions that are truly in the decision-maker’s self interest.
Making Rational Decisions in Your Own Self-Interest
Edwards tells us logical thinking incorporates desired goals, unfulfilled needs, activities we engage in to fulfill needs, and expected consequences of those actions when we choose to engage in them. He, then, puts logical thinking to action with his Rational Routing Routine and its supplementary Decision-Making Model. “I am a firm believer that everything we do could be done more efficiently if we first determined what we are ultimately trying to accomplish, and then followed a logical approach to arrive at that goal” (123).
Rational Routing Routine (R3)
The Rational Routing Routine is a simple decision-making model that Edwards developed, which describes the process rational people go through—whether consciously or subconsciously—to make meaningful decisions and to figure out the best path forward. There are three basic elements: 1) the assumption of sanity; 2) the assumption of logical progression, which “involves cause-and-effect considerations, ruling out coincidence as much as possible” (109); 3) the assumption of consistency in the decision-maker’s problem solving processes. “We engage in the stages of this routine without explicitly thinking about the complexities of the process that we are following; it happens naturally” (112).
Based on R3, Edwards defined a six-stage, decision-making model that lends a lot to the final ten elements of The Pepper Tree, the books main decision-making tool, based upon Edwards’s observations of the average decision-making process. Sitting down and determining what you want to do sounds pretty simple, but it takes a great amount of courage, self-awareness, and honesty to pursue exactly what you desire, maybe not for the smaller (or more basic) decisions like getting a bottle of water when you’re thirsty, but for following a career choice or other life-altering decisions it can be a lot harder to pinpoint exactly what one wants.
The Pepper Tree Decision-Making Tool
An easily used ‘If-Then-Why’ tool that can supplement the average decision-making process, which helps to determine—based on a 10-element scale utilizing one scale per element—if a decision truly is in the decision-maker’s best self-interest. Though the description provided seems kind of convoluted and wordy, the chart itself is quite handy and useful. The author’s descriptions of the individual units of measure for each of the 10 elements take longer to read than actually using the chart.
The tangible act of filling out this work chart is a physical manifestation of the thesis statement for this book. Make sure your decision is a good one before you make it; otherwise your self-interest becomes selfishness. Where decisions of self-interest are made after considering the value (or what Edwards calls the expected utility) of an action, the risks involved, the possible consequences when risks occur, the impact of the decision on others, if the decision will provide pleasure and fulfill the need, the level of happiness expected from the decision action, and if the activity after the decision is attractive. Edwards claims the tool forces the decision-maker to really consider each aspect of a choice before determining that it is genuinely conducted in self-interest.
A truly honest assessment of the situation is required from the decision-maker, though. If a decision-maker is simply looking for confirmation that a decision is a good one or will benefit someone else, this tool is not the one to use. Results will only inform the decision-maker if a choice is being made in their best self-interest. Just one reading of the Work Chart and the 10 elements decision-makers should consider in choices of self-interest will make that clear.
Edwards’s true focus, in my honest opinion, is on learning how to live one’s best life, where there is a balanced effort toward compassion for others and acting in one’s self-interest. He spends the last third of the book focusing on how the average decision-maker can apply the elements of his decision-making tool, The Pepper Tree, toward better decisions in one’s self-interest. Edwards quoted the founder of the Positive Psychology movement, Martin Seligman, to mention the 5 Elements of Well-being, where Engagement and Meaning are the most crucial for a happy life—with Pleasure, Relationships, and Achievements coming up after. Engagement and Meaning go hand-in-hand, where the feeling of being part of a larger purpose can be generated by “a full life” with “satisfying work, close relationships, and interesting hobbies” (55). These also tie-in logically with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which has given Edwards’s argument validity all along.
Since our decision processes are triggered by the fulfillment of a need, external influences on filling that need or what can be sought out to fulfill needs are an important aspect of the decision-making process. Edwards accounts for the times when external influences can inadvertently guide our actions and are so great that a person will experience internal conflict over what is considered logical and what—though, not logical—has been instilled behaviorally or emotionally; the example of pork consumption and its negative connotations in certain religious circles is explored. Where one person’s desire (influenced by immediate external pressures) conflicts with a current long-standing belief (influenced by past external pressures), until the decision-maker caves to the new pressure or upholds the old belief.
Psychology and economy understand that decisions people ultimately make must comply with certain laws of nature, where people’s actions toward self-interest are drawn, like other actions, toward positive payoffs and rewards. When we feel good, we do more and that feel-good feeling is contagious. Even individualism, one of the major tenets of democracy, is not driven by selfishness, but by “cooperating with other individuals as they pursue their goals. Believing that one can do as they please without regard for others is not individualism; it is selfishness, because individualism requires the acknowledgement that others have the same inalienable rights as one’s self” (Edwards quoting Alexis de Tocqueville, 88).
In the end, I totally agree with Edwards’s stance in that each and every person needs to put their interests as high on their priority lists as everyone else’s. You must act in your own self-interest, and to do so means making decisions logically and being truly honest in the ends you wish to achieve with the decision you’re about to make. The Pepper Tree Tool, make sure you do read the description looking at the provided Work Chart, is a very basic scale walking you through the important aspects of the decision-making process. Named after an unfortunate (but hilarious; I laughed a good long time, told someone else, and then we laughed for a good long time) anecdote about Billy, some chocolate peppers (you’ll discover the reasoning behind the title, I’m not spoiling it), and an unfortunate girlfriend.
So, overall, I like his message, and I like the way he got it out there. The 5000-dollar suit, the Billy anecdotes, the pop culture references, and psychology references had me hooked. I dig self-help like this because it sounds more like a conversation with a best friend than a how-to for “getting back on the right track” which screams struggling motivational speaker. (Miss ya, Mr. Farley!) He reminded me that I’m only human and that even though I want to keep all the people around me happy (which is a noble and honored feat), I require a little happiness, too, to keep going. A message I often forget when I’m plugging through that second wind and demanding my third one. And if no one else is going to consider my happiness in my quest to be Top #1 People-Pleaser of the World, then I’ve got to, right?
But always think those self-interest choices out logically. Think it through and consider all the options (or as many as you can possibly foresee) before you take any drastic steps; otherwise, you could end up with cottage cheese on your face. A great story to tell your buddies, but sour milk on your face, nonetheless.