If you found yourself present at a disaster, say a plane crash or the recent riots, what would you instinctively do? Pull out your mobile to film it? Help yourself to some casual looting because everyone else was? Or would you call the emergency services, rush to stop the looting, help those in need?
At the core opportunism is about self interest and making situations work for you, often by taking advantage of others. “One man’s opportunism is another man’s statesmanship” said Milton Friedman. Ken Livingstone was accused of political opportunism by blaming the riots on a growing social divide created by the Government’s spending cuts.
It’s very sad to think that we are living in a world where opportunism rules human behaviour. Let’s rather look at the examples of intrinsically altruistic behaviour exhibited by such actions as the organised post-riot clean-ups, the Tunisians welcoming the fleeing Libyans into their homes in April, the German roofer Marcel Gleffe who jumped in his boat to help rescue the young people on Utoya.
One interesting thought advocated by researchers is that opportunism diminishes when individuals are part of an organisation with a shared purpose.