There have been so many posts and commentary on “giving” – donating and raising money for the #australianbushfires. And it’s been amazing.
The “why” it’s gathered so much momentum is less about #starpower and #celebrity and more about our #humanity.
When it comes to acts of charity, half of us, feel we don’t do enough here. We rate our ability to give back as adequate at best. Only 2% of us, think that this area of our lives is something we excel at.
Kudos to those people. No shame to the rest of us, especially when 50% of us say this is an area we want to work on, we want to improve, and that we want to have the ability to give back.
Do we have time to be charitable?
But with only 24 hours in the day, and 26 or more needed, there doesn’t seem to be scope for anything else in our lives. We are balancing (and so far we have explored these life areas) our health, our work, our finances, our relationships and we are trying to find time for a hobby or two. Can we give anything back? What’s in it for us anyway? Well, there shouldn’t necessarily be anything it in for us. We should be wired as humans, to have helping behaviours without any regard to whether or not there is a return or a reward in it.
Are we wired for good?
Are we really wired that way? And what drives this behaviour within us? And is it something embedded in us from our ancient self, something new, and does it have any relevance in a modern world? Have we become rewired into more selfish beings? More self-absorbed and preoccupied with our own micro-worlds we have created, than a global perspective? Perhaps?
So, let’s look at a snapshot of the theories around what makes us human when it comes to helping others. A lot of the thinking around “kin selection” makes so much sense.
When we were hunter gatherers living in small tribes, survival was on a critical knifes edge. If we didn’t work together, look after each other, share resources and food then our survival as a tribe was tenuous at best. This type of behaviour ensured our survival and became ingrained in our DNA. In short it is inbuilt within us to ensure our tribe is protected. What is in contention of course in todays’ world, is who do we identify as being part of our tribe? Everyone? Maybe. Maybe not.
If we have been helped before, or we have a high expectation of receiving some sort of help from someone in the future, then the idea of reciprocity is at play. There is an expectation or an honouring of a previous debt of sorts. Again, the expectation is something that requires greater clarity. Who exactly would we expect help from in the future, enough of expectation for us to want to help them now?
When it comes to delivering help for a sense of relief, I do like the thinking here. For me it is tied up into the expression and action of empathy, so much so that we couldn’t stand to not do something to help in a given situation. We are in this context emotionally aroused by the situation at hand. So much so that it elicits an emotional response. Sometimes it is the sheer anxiety of seeing someone or a situation that requires help. It can be sympathy. A kind of “there but by the grace of God go I” feeling. In other words’ we picture, we imagine ourselves in the situation and we feel a compelling need to do something. The theory is, is that we act to relieve the emotion, with the more challenging the situation, the more we are emotionally stretched, the more likely we will act. If you have ever watched a children’s hospital telethon to raise money, then you know exactly the feelings experienced, that make people pick up their phone and donate to the cause.
By contrast to our previous two lines of thought, there are those wonderful people amongst us who are truly empathetic (I’d argue there is a great deal of empathy wrapped up in the previous theory), the true altruists amongst us. These people have a singular focus in these situations of assisting in times of need, through an understanding, a deep understanding of the emotional circumstances of the people who need help.
Thankfully we have a blend of people in our
society, in our communities (perhaps harking back to the different roles we had
in our tribes all those thousands of years ago), and over time, the way our
community operates, creates expectations of behaviour that in a grand scale
benefit our society as a whole, and in everyday life in all the small moments,
delivers courtesy and decency to those around us.
 Altruism: the selfless concern for the well-being of others