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Colleen Dufek PSY 301: Social Psychology Altruism Professor Deanna Swinford March 9, 2009

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Altruism can be defined several different ways, each with slight variations on its basic meaning. Two such definitions are; loving others as oneself, and self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. (Upton, 2000) Both of these rather loosely describe what altruistic behavior encompasses. The French philosopher Auguste Comte was the person who invented, or created the term altruisme, later translated to altruism in English. (Upton, 2000) Many found the philosophers ideas to be extreme and unrealistic. Throughout time this sentiment has lived one. Some say there is no such thing as true altruism. And others believe you must search far and wide to find any examples of it. With his paper you will see that altruism is alive and well, and can be seen in all walks of life. Breaking down what the definition of altruism is helps to understand what acts of altruism look like. At its core it can be found in acts that are done for others with no gain to the person doing them. These acts can be large or small. Such as; helping someone across the street, or to carry their grocery bags to their car, it can even be the simple act of listening whole heartedly to someone who needs it. Many religions praise and accept the value of altruism. In Christianity it is The Golden Rule: Do unto others as youd have them do unto you. And in Judaism it is Love thy neighbor as thyself. (Scuton, 2007) Missionary work is an example of a religious outlet of altruism. So, in todays society of greed and over indulgence where can altruism be found? Can it be found in America? The answer is yes, an overwhelming yes. Right now we have men and women committing amazing acts of selflessness everyday. These people are the ones who enlist in our armed forces. They have been shipped, sometimes Altruism 3

multiple times, across the world to protect our country and all of us living here. They choose this life because they truly want to serve and they love their country. To me, this is exactly what altruism should be. Finding altruistic acts throughout the world is not hard. Some of the more extreme acts by certain groups overshadow the work of more peaceful people. Buddhist monks have lived in contemplative peace for centuries. A monk lives and practices for others. They live by very strict rules that regulate their food intake, their clothing, and what type of possessions they own. (Lay Guide to Monks Rules, 2008) A monk is not allowed to have any belongings of monetary value. These principles lead them to a life of near solitude and prayer. Their actions are lead by what can help others, not themselves. The study of altruism and compassion was brought to the forefront in November of 2005 when Stanford University started a center to test the brains effects on the topic. It struck home for the present Dalai Lama who visited the center and donated a sum of $150,000 to the research efforts. (Goldman, 2009) That amount was the largest he had ever donated to a research project. (Goldman, 2009) The center studies the brain to determine its process and effects on acts of kindness and compassion. The questions that the center wishes to answer include; Is it possible to create a set of mental exercises that individuals can be taught to make them more compassionate without them having to spend thousands of hours in meditation (common for Buddhist monks)? Altruism 4

Is there an explanation for why a child becomes a bully? Are there ways in which children or their parents can be taught to be more compassionate?

Can we create a set of exercises that will address the issue of compassion fatigue in clergy and hospital personnel?

Would such training benefit prison inmates to decrease violence and recidivism? Is there a place for such training in the corporate environment to decrease the incidence of depression and anxiety in workers? (Goldman, 2009)

All of these topics would help to enlighten us on how to act more altruistically. Mother Theresa has been recognized time and time again as an amazing figure of altruism. Her life, from beginning to end, was lived to help others. Her work is so well known and loved that in 1979 she was awarded the Noble Peace Prize. By the age of twelve Mother Theresa knew that her calling was to God. At eighteen she left her parents and moved to Ireland to join the Sisters of Loretto. (The Nobel Foundation, 1979) The groupmade frequent mission trips to India. Not long after her being with them Mother Thereasa went to India. She worked as a teacher and then left to live in the darkest places of Calcutta. There she started her own school to help the underprivelged children. Her lifes work did not end there, in fact her teaching was just the beginning. By the end of her life she had over four thousand sisters working with her, and hundreds of thousands of volunteers. (The Nobel Foundation, 1979) Mother Theresa worked with the terminally ill opening hospices so that people with HIV/AIDS, and lepracy could die peacefully. She believed everyone deserved love and respect. Mother Theresa has been quoted as saying many prolific and beautiful words of wisdom and advice. A couple that stood out are as follows;

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I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love. Mother Theresa In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love. Mother Theresa

Another person who showed true altruism was a man by the name of Oscar Schindler. Unfortynately when I grew up we were not told about this heroic man in school. I do not believe many people knew of him until a famous movie was made about his life. During a time of unspeakable hatred and murder Oscar Schindler rose above it and saved twelve hundred Jews. (Bulow, 2009) Pre war Oscar Schindler was a man of little honor. He was said to be a womanizer, and was well known for his drinking. (Bulow, 2009) He was also well known as a member of the Nazi party. His factories employed Jewish people because he could get their labor for cheap. He made millions off of his factories. As the Nazis plan to exterminate all of the Jews became known to Oscar he changed his ways and began protecting the people he called his children. By the end of the war Oscar Schindler was penniless, but considered a great hero by the Jewish people. He was named a Richteous Gentile by Israel. In 1945 those he worked closely with in his factory wrote a loving tribute to his work of saving them. One xcert from this letter is particularly moving because it lists quite simply what Schindler did for his children. There were huge difficulties connected with the implementation of Director Schindlers business, and he took great pains to introduce this plan. The fact that he attained permission to create a camp, in which not only women and men, but also families could stay together, is unique within the territory of the Reich. Special mention must be given to the fact that our resettlement to Bruennlitz was carried out by way of a list of names, put together in Krakow and approved by the Central Administration of all concentration camps in Oranienburg (a unique case). After the men had been interned in Gross-Rosen concentration camp for no more than a couple of days and the women for 3 weeks in Auschwitz concentration camp, we may claim with assertiveness that with our arrival in Bruennlitz we owe our lives solely to the efforts of Director Schindler and his humane treatment of Altruism 6

his workers. Director Schindler took care of the improvement of our living standards by providing us with extra food and clothing. No money was spared and his one and only goal was the humanistic ideal of saving our lives from inevitable death. Written by Isaak Stern (Bulow, 2009) Though Oscar Schindlers life was one of many faults, he gambled everything that he had to save those people. As with many people, all of his acts were not altruistic, but his most important were. He may not be the flawless face of compassion but his selfless desire to save over a thousand people at risk to his own life made him a picture of altruism. While researching altruism for this paper a topic that I had not originally planned to discuss arouse, altruistic animals. In reading more the line is drawn on the validity of this argument. It seems to boil down to two sides, those who believe in evolution and those who believe in God and the Bible. Charles Darwin coined evolution and did not believe in altruism in animals. He believed that natural selection, and survival of the fittest was all that drove an animals behavior. (Colley, 2007) A religious view of watching animals and the actions they take to help each other follows the bibles teachings. There are so many different animals who act in altruistic ways, some of these acts are small, and some give their whole lives focus. Worker bees live to help the Queen reproduce. (Colley, 2007) Frequently you will see or hear a story of one species of animal adopting another to feed and care for. Not all animals show signs of altruism. And since science can not study how and why an animal acts and thinks, these theories are for each person to agree or disagree with. No one knows what the future will hold, speculation is all we have to go on. Since the year 2000 our country, and world, have faced many difficult battles. On September 11, 2001 the United States felt the pain of terrorism. Immediately after, and the years following, people committed amazing acts of altruism. Whether they were a celebrity or regular Joe people banded together and helped each other. After the tsunami in 2005 similar stories arouse with acts of kindness for those who were devastated by the horrible event. Stories have been told of what some people did, but there are countless people who helped simply to help, which is altruism at its best.

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In my small corner of the world I try to make small changes in behavior that will help others. I can not say that I live an altruistic life, but I do try and help in ways that I can. For the average person I think this is exactly the struggle that they face. How can we help? What can we do? And right now with our economic status it can be almost impossible to help anyone or anything financially. There are small things that anyone can do on a daily basis. As was stated before; helping someone to cross the street or bag their groceries, volunteer at an animal shelter or food shelf, and if possible, missionary work to other countries. Also, schools are always in need of people willing to help out. A few hours of anyones time does make a difference. I have begun looking for ways that I can volunteer my time and teach others to do something to better themselves. I believe that it would be extremely hard for the average person to live an altruistic life one hundred percent of the time. It is a practice in dedication, patience, and love. Even though a whole life in this manner may be hard, you can still look around and see altruistic acts all around us. A child giving away his toy to someone who needs it more, an animal helping another, a volunteer working at the local homeless shelter. Around us are people living altruistic lifestyles daily. It can be a change in your schedule or attitude that leads you to do something for someone else. Whatever it may take to get you to do something, it is worth the effort. It does make the world, great and small, a better place to be for everyone.

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1. Upton, Robin. What is Altruism. April 23, 2000.

2. Scruton, Roger. Altruism and Selfishness. The American Spectator. Novemeber 2, 2007.

3. Lay Guide to Monks Rules. Monks Studies. 2008.

4. Goldman, Bruce. New Center at Stanford to study brains role in compassion, altruism. 2009.

5. The Nobel Foundation. Mother Theresa- Biography. Altruism 9


6. Bulow, Louis. Oscar Schindler. 2009.

7. Colley, Caleb. Altruistic Animals: Compatible With Evolution? Apologetics Press Inc. 2007.