By Edie Weinstein
You’re standing in a supermarket checkout line with a basket full of groceries and you notice the person behind you attempting to juggle five or six items while calming a crying toddler who is way past nap time. What is your instinct? Do you think, “Oh, that poor parent. I’m glad that’s not me,” and move ahead when it is your turn or do you usher him or her in front of you as you say, “I understand. I bet you can’t wait to get home.?” Your choice indicates your level of altruism which, by definition according to the Meriam Webster Dictionary is “unselfish regard for, or devotion to the welfare of others.”
Putting the needs of others first is a learned skill. When we are born, our requirement for food, shelter, safety and loving attention are ideally met by the adults around us. While we are pre-verbal and we cry as a result of a gap in any of those components of our lives and we are ignored, we learn that we don’t matter. When our needs are met, we learn to trust that we will be well cared for. Altruism develops more readily in the second set of circumstances. When people come to accept that they have value, they have more to share. In the first case, unhealthy self-sacrifice may result in a lifetime of frantic and sometimes futile attempts at getting needs met.
A question to ponder: If doing altruistic acts is personally gratifying, is it truly altruistic? I think it is since it is part of a positive feedback loop. You commit a random act of kindness that benefits others and they may pay it forward, which could encourage you to do even more scattering seeds of good will.
An additional element that may pre-dispose us to altruism are mirror neurons. V.S. Ramachandran, who is a renowned professor of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, performed studies on mirror neurons; which he referred to as “the basis of civilization” in a TED talk and highlighted their importance in behavioral choices in his book entitled The Tell Tale Brain. When we see ‘self in other,’ altruism is a natural outcome.
A challenge is to put aside our own needs when we view certain members of humanity as being so different from us and those we know and love that we may turn away with a shrug of the shoulder, disdain or outright hatred, leaving them to fend for themselves.
Peter Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. His research focuses on applied ethics, philosophy, and “effective altruism.” A recent NPR piece entitled “How Can Effective Altruism Help Us Do The Most Good During A Pandemic?” speaks to the idea that we are all responsible to each other and that the pandemic is a perfect window through which to see this dynamic in action. He says that we can put the Greater Good before our individual needs.
No man or woman is an island, separate from the rest and the virus is a great equalizer. “We need to push the circles of moral concerns,” according to Singer. What if we didn’t think of those we can help as ‘fellow citizens,’ but members of the same species and what if we made our decisions about who to help based on what could be of benefit for the greatest number of people?
A recent story emerged about two young men in Indiana named Marcus Harvey and Tre’ Jones who risked their own lives to enter a burning home in which a man named Guy Tarlton fell asleep on his couch and a pot on the stove caused a kitchen fire. They noticed smoke coming from the house as they happened to be driving by and did what others who stood by chose not to do while waiting for the fire department to arrive. I am curious about what gave them the courage to overcome the natural fear of what might await on the other side of the door. Was it pure adrenalin or a desire to save a fellow human being with whom they had no pre-existing relationship? Who knows what the ripple effect will be as a result of their altruistic gesture and who they will inspire?It is acts such as these that see beyond color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, culture, gender presentation to the common humanity we all share.
REV. EDIE WEINSTEIN, MSW, LSW
Love Ambassador, Opti-Mystic & Bliss Mistress
Edie delights in inviting people to live rich, full, juicy lives. She is an internationally recognized, sought after, colorfully creative journalist, interviewer, author and editor, a dynamic and inspiring speaker, licensed social worker and interfaith minister, BLISS coach, event producer, certified Laughter Yoga Leader, certified Cuddle Party facilitator, and Cosmic Concierge. Edie is the founder of Hug Mobsters Armed with Love, which offers FREE HUGS events world- wide on a planned and spontaneous basis. For more than three years, she was the host of the Vivid Life Radio show called It’s All About Relationships.
She speaks on the subjects of wellness, relationships, trauma recovery, addiction, mental health, spirituality, sexuality, loss and grief.
Edie is the author of The Bliss Mistress Guide To Transforming the Ordinary Into the Extraordinary and co-author of Embraced By the Divine: The Emerging Woman’s Gateway to Power, Passion and Purpose. She has also contributed to several anthologies and personal growth books, including Taming the Anger Dragon: From Pissed Off to Peaceful.
Over the past 30 years, she has had the honor of interviewing His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Louise Hay, Judith Orloff, Debbie Ford, Arielle Ford, don Miguel Ruiz, Wayne Dyer, Bernie Siegel, Deepak Chopra, Jack Canfield, Marianne Williamson, Grover Washington, Jr., Dan Millman, Ram Dass, Olympia Dukakis, Shirley MacLaine, Dennis Weaver, Mariel Hemingway, Ben & Jerry and SARK.
In the last four decades, she has worked with those who have been diagnosed with life-altering conditions, including mental health issues, cardiac disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, infertility, end-stage conditions, eating disorders, addiction, traumatic brain injury, stroke, depression, and anxiety. She focuses on her clients’ resilience and assists them in developing a solid toolkit of coping skills. As both a clinician and a patient, she is aware of what it is like to be on the other side of the treatment relationship and can be of service to the patient, their caregivers, as well as the treatment team. Edie can address the issues that arise such as body image, trauma, sexuality, relationship changes, vulnerability, change in physical or cognitive ability, aging, end of life issues, and communicating needs.
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