The definition of altruism is the “willingness to do things that bring advantages to others, even if it results in disadvantage for yourself” (Cambridge dictionary). Although not new to human behaviour I felt that there was an increasing number of altruistic responses from people during the lockdown period. But is this now becoming less?
Altruism can often be spontaneous and acted upon without much forethought or decision only to recognise the benefits for that other person. It’s the act of someone unselfishly giving of their time/money/skill without expecting anything back in return. The emphasis is on the person receiving rather than the giver. Random acts of kindness are examples of altruism and is seen by social psychologists as prosocial behaviour.
In a blog written last year on Acts of Kindness I wrote that the acts can range from small and unassuming to grand gestures without the need for recognition or praise. So anything goes that is spontaneous, unprepared and done to help someone else. It can be giving someone the rest of your time on a parking ticket, leaving a book for someone else to read, let another person go ahead of you in a queue, hold a door open or pay someone a compliment. It stops us being self-centred and inwardly focused and allows us to be more aware of the other person.
Back in lockdown April and May there was a lot of kindness and altruistic behaviour, people wanted to help and support others. We shopped for our elderly neighbours, phoned those who were shielding and Captain Sir Tom was walking unselfishly to raise money for the NHS.
Do you feel that people are still being compassionate, considerate and altruistic? Possibly as lockdown has eased, people are back at work, the pace of life picks up and the stresses of daily life start to take hold again, altruism is less seen. Just on the contentious issue of wearing a face mask – the act of wearing one is predominately for others, an act of altruism!
So let’s not forget how communities came together, how we helped and supported each other, those unselfish acts are just as much needed today as there were months ago. Maybe they are needed more so now, as we come to terms with a new way of living. Looking out for others is not just a virus led requirement but hopefully an innate desire to help others feel better or to bring a bit of joy or comfort into someone’s life – a selfless act that can mean a lot to the receiver even you don’t know tht person!
Life maybe be busier and faster once again but we are still human beings requesting understanding, consideration and kindness so let’s not forget our ability and choice of being altruistic.
Kindness is about generosity, consideration and empathy. In my last blog I wrote about empathy and compassion and it is how we can demonstrate these qualities in acts. A lot has been said and written lately about doing random acts of kindness and I totally agree that it feels not only good to the receiver but also to the giver. In fact kindness ripples out and if you have been on the receiver end of a kindness then you are more likely to go on and engage in your own kind acts.
The givers of kind acts feel a greater sense of satisfaction
and happiness which in turn boost good mental health and wellbeing. There is now a Random Act of Kindness day on
17 February 2019.
The acts can range from small and unassuming to grand gestures without the need for recognition or praise. So anything goes that is spontaneous, unprepared and done to help someone else. It can be giving someone the rest of your time on a parking ticket, leaving a book for someone else to read, let another person go ahead of you in a queue, hold a door open or pay someone a compliment. It stops us being self-centered and inwardly focused and allows us to be more aware of the other person.
We are more likely to do a kind act if we have experienced
it or have recently talked about it so it is in our subconcious. A friend mentioned that she had given someone
a lift as he had missed his bus and the next day I was approached by someone
asking for bus fayre as his car had broken down. Normally, as it was the evening, I wouldn’t
have done so but it was in my subconscious what my friend had done. So I gave the person some money only to find
out later it was a scam! So I must admit
that maybe it wasn’t the wisest thing to do especially as it was the other
person approaching me.
You are in control of the kind act, so you are choosing what to do of your own free will, even if it is spontaneous. Keep an open mind, be aware of others needs and do something because it will benefit someone else and hopefully in turn they too will pass on a kind act.
Compassion and empathy are two words which have found their
way more and more into our everyday language.
Do we really understand what they mean and are we practicing these
I am still learning and integrating these two words and
certainly at times I have to work really hard to bring in these emotions.
Certainly there are specific therapies that now focus on compassion
such as Compassion
Focused Therapy but we don’t need to go to a workshop or class to achieve
If we want to bring these aspects into our lives we need
understand what they are first. Recently
I read a description that highlights the subtle difference between empathy and compassion. In his book “Same
Soul – Many Lives” Dr B Weiss states that empathy is an intellectual approach
in trying to understand another person’s feelings. Compassion is more instinctual and comes from
the heart so you can be compassionate without being empathic.
Trying to understand another person’s feeling can increase
our awareness of others situations which we may have no prior knowledge or
understanding of. It can often be
suggested to “walk in another’s shoes” – to understand and appreciate how the
other person is feeling.
Compassion is often a spontaneous feeling and comes from the
heart with actions that are based in kindness.
Both empathy and compassion take us on the eventual path of unconditional
It can be incredibly hard to put these into practice at
times especially when you have been hurt by others but we always have choices
in how we react and we choose our attitude.
It can take a lot of mental strength, awareness and inner calm to show
compassion but by doing so can drastically change the whole situation. Often it is not about changing the other
person but it is about changing ourselves.
If you come from a place of compassion then you are less likely to feel
anger or frustration, stress will be reduced and you can let go of grudges and
bring in forgiveness. This in turn may
have a positive effect on the other person and thus changing the energy between
It may mean taking time out to think and reflect quietly
about a situation and then going back with a compassionate and/or empathic
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:-
How would I feel if I were in their shoes?
What is contributing to them acting/behaving as
If I was at my most compassionate self how would
I see the situation and how would I want to respond?
Compassion and empathy are not just for others but are
equally important for ourselves. The
starting point is always with ourselves and by being compassionate i.e. being
kind and understanding, these two emotions and values can greatly enhance our
lives and lead to the ultimate goal of unconditional love.