Last night I was killing a rare few minutes of time on (what else?) Facebook. A friend of mine who happens to be a nurse, and who sees the need for compassionate care every day, posed just one question:

Why don't adults nurture each other the way we nurture kids?

Now, I'm willing to bet you don't have many kindergarteners standing around your water cooler. But in an age when we use words and phrases like cutthroat and dog-eat-dog to describe the job market, when Shark Tank is pounding into our heads the idea that competitors (and even funders) will rip you to pieces, the question is business relevant. Let me show you.

Increased childhood survival yields a changed perspective

As Laura Helmuth of Slate explains, starting around 30,000 years ago as a result of culture shifts, "elderly" adults (those past age 30) helped improve infant mortality, providing some evolutionary survival advantage to the species. Even so, having kids survive remained a toss of the dice, with some experts estimating that, up until the 20th century, up to half of all babies died. Subsequently, parents couldn't get too attached to the children they had until relatively recently.

Today, though, we are able to believe that our kids will survive. Subsequently, we emphasize the need to nurture them. They are, as every educator and politician pronounces, our future. The elderly, by contrast, have lost value despite the role they play in longevity and infant survival, because we attribute much of infant survival to other factors, such as science and technology.

Grasping that we now tend to see our children as the most precious, when we see an adult in need, it's harder to have qualms about withholding care and nurturing. It's our kids who deserve our focus, energy and resources. It's kids we have to protect, who have enough value for us to invest in. Adults, we tell ourselves, can survive on their own. The office only exacerbates this tendency, stressing that we need to pull our own weight without complaint or get fired. We don't dare admit we need some guidance in this environment, lest we seem weak.

King of the hill still feels awesome

When we are at the top, we are able to convince ourselves that we have more control. We like control because it helps us maintain familiarity, which is less scary than what is new. Being king of the hill also makes us feel like our social position and general safety is secure, so we don't fear isolation as much.

When someone nurtures another person, they take a risk that that person will reach their level or even surpass them. The idea of losing that control and position, of being seen as lower or less than, can be incredibly frightening. So when someone chooses not to get involved or defend you in a work conflict, when they won't take their time to show you the ropes, it's self-preservation. By contrast, we don't mind nurturing kids in part because it's hard to imagine them as overtaking us--they're simply not a threat.

A final element--fairness

People may look after #1, but it's that desire to watch out for themselves that also drives a sense of fairness (which, by the way, even monkeys have been shown to possess). We want fairness, which we feel adulthood should grant us, because it convinces us that we are not in danger of being overpowered, offering a sense of security. Business leaders thus are supposed to be objective and fair, providing no preferential treatment and instead rewarding employees based on merit. If a business leader offers resources or compassion to one employee, they have to offer it to everyone else, too. Otherwise, the perception of favoritism creates conflict, with employees feeling threatened by the person who is able to develop and improve. For some individuals, it's far easier to nurture no one than it is to entertain the exhausting idea of nurturing the entire group. But with kids, we make every effort to nurture, because we feel like they need our help to achieve and maintain equality and have a fighting chance as adults. We think it is unfair to prepare some children and leave others disadvantaged for the rest of their lives.

But, some people are willing to nurture...

What makes them so different? Sometimes, people are able to overcome the above issues because helping someone else makes them feel like they are contributing something important. Nurturing becomes a way of confirming competence and personal value, giving them the sense of control and connection they want. Instead of feeling threatened, they feel empowered as teachers and healers. They are able to lean on the idea of fairness to trust that the person they nurture won't stab them in the back.

Nurturing takes everyone, and you can lead

Understanding all the complex issues outlined above, people have limitations. Just because we learn that one person is trustworthy doesn't mean that they can give us exactly what we need in a given moment. Subsequently, it takes many successful relationships to be fully nurtured in a way that lets us connect with everything we are and not be afraid anymore. Translation? If you really want people to throw off their chains and reach their full potential, you have to encourage many connections, not just one or two. It really does take a village.

If you want to create a work environment where employees can receive support, grow as individuals and work as a team, you have to convince your employees that engaging in nurturing behaviors will not endanger their position, desire for a legacy, sense of normalcy or sense of self. Rewarding those behaviors when you see them, such as with a simple statement of recognition, goes a long way, providing positive reinforcement. Modeling matters, too. Options like establishing mentorship programs, building emergency funds any employee in crisis can apply for or quickly sending employees personalized recommendations for conferences or seminars are all ways to fairly and efficiently demonstrate at scale that nurturing is acceptable in your business.