My year in the jungle
Back in 1993, I used to carry textbooks to and from uni. One of those was the 3rd edition of what psychology undergrads affectionately called “Gleitman”.
God, I loved that book!
Sweet sweet memories…. Hennyways….sorry, I forgot you were there!
I remember one chapter of Gleitman covered off social psychology constructs, one of those being “altruism”. Fascinating read. Basically, altruism is the term we use when an individual shows helping behaviors, and the helping behaviors do not in any way benefit the helper (Gleitman, Gross & Reisberg, 2011). Can you imagine the simple act of helping another human, for completely unselfish reasons? No gratitude. No public acclaim. Nothing but helping for the sake of helping another in need.
Where the hell did altruism go?
You can stop rolling your eyes. I’m not so old and judgemental as to ignore the many millions of people in our global community who are in fact out there being altruistic. These are acts of kindness we will never know about of course, but we know they must be happening. However, (and here you can perhaps resume your eye roll), I’m pretty certain that helping others has now turned into an item to be not pointed on the Personal Achievements sub-heading of our resumes.
“After completing my year 12 exams, I traveled to the Amazon to research the mating habits of the Blackfooted Bilge-eating Drosophila whose saliva we now use to cure homelessness.”
Perhaps to meet the instant gratification requirement we have developed, we decided to post a picture of ourselves in entomological scrubs, one knee in the mud, sweating in the jungle as we milk the salivary glands of said fly. The 435 comments read, “Wow. You look hot!” and, “I can’t believe that you gave up your Noosa holiday to cure homelessness. Go you!” and “What an achievement. We are so proud.”
You may be horrified by my cynicism. I am similarly horrified at the lengths that we now have to go to in order to be seen. For what? Entry into a more prestigious university? The point of difference proving that future employers should hire us? So that we have a list of impressive items an MC can read before introducing us to a group?
I’m not certain that altruism, even when done quietly with no acclaim, doesn’t meet a selfish need for us anyway. I can describe no better feeling than helping someone who is not expecting help. The warm wash of pride you feel when you do the smallest of things that can make the biggest of differences for another human – all without them knowing. I love that feeling. It is addictive. And sometimes, when I pop down from my super judgy soapbox and make time to do these things, the feelings it gives me buoys my spirits for days after the event. It is because of this that I cannot actually believe that helping others for unselfish reasons, even exists.
That said, I’m sending out the challenge to give it a try. Do something for another. Expect no gratitude. Don’t tell anyone what you have done. Stop yourself from posting it on social media. Feel the mushy, happy vibes you get and then write and tell me whether you truly received no reward.