Attempts at Altruism

It was (or so I initially thought) just another weekday morning of chaos. But an act of pure altruism made me glow inside and consider for a change, more than just my plight!

The school drop off. How such a simple task could become a torturous ordeal is one of the biggest surprises of parenthood. Ok, maybe with twin toddlers in toe, who refuse to walk or share a pram, it was probably never going to be a ‘walk in the park’.

This morning during drop off, on cue it decided to rain……a lot, just as I’d pulled the car into an adjacent street (cause you can never get a car park in front of the school, grrrrr).

The urgency to get undercover fast, meant running with a toddler on my hip, one in a stroller and my 5 year old attempting to push it, in a straight line. It’s normally about a 5 min walk, but in torrential rain, it seemed like a burgeoning distance.

Needless to say it didn’t end pretty. A spectacular fall saw my Prep boy with bloodied knees, palms, a gash to the forehead and all four of us soaking wet.

I knew moments later, once my Prep boy was bandaged up and sufficiently calm, that the walk back to the car with rain still bucketing down, could just about push me over the edge (or so I’d allowed it to seem).

But then, almost out of nowhere this parent appeared from behind. She asked if I needed help getting to my car. I think my heart melted a little here as she quickly grabbed both handles of the pram, gave me her umbrella to cover us and offered me a lift back to my car.

With rain still teeming down, she then offered to follow me home, to save getting the twins out and more drenched during the transfer.

She arrived at my house, backed the car into the garage and helped me get the boys inside.

It was an act of pure kindness, selflessness, altruism if you will and one that instantly changed the course of my day.

So what is altruism, what does it mean to be altruistic and why should we aim to lead an altruistic life?giving hands altered

The word itself stems from the Latin root ‘alter’-‘other’ and means the unselfish regard for others wellbeing.

According to social researcher and all round ‘good’ guy Hugh Mackay, altruism is ‘the cornerstone of any civilised society and the foundation of any coherent moral code’.

Yet in a world that seems to value competition, material possessions, and the ‘search for individual happiness’, it’s difficult to imagine if altruism still exists. But it clearly does.

The neighbour who happily offered to help us unpack our removal truck and move our furniture into our new rental unit.

The carer who looks after my mother and always brings milk and biscuits for my boys, to keep them occupied so I can chat with my Mum.

The school student who picked up all my pencils from the ground as my bag burst open racing between classes.

The unobtrusive waiter in the café who allowed me to drink my rare morning coffee in silence, yet acknowledged me at the end as I was leaving, with a simple smile and “hope you can face the day now?”

The young girl at the supermarket who allowed me to leave without paying for a packet of spices, which my screaming toddler had refused to hand over at the checkout.

It’s fair to say that altruism can be found out there and we all have the capacity for such ‘goodness’, but like any virtue, it needs to be nurtured and tended to in order for it to develop and flourish.

According to recent research (‘A Cooperative Species’, 2011, Bowels and Gintis), humans are programmed to act altruistically.

It was previously thought that people only acted selflessly because there was some received benefit in doing so, namely making ourselves feel better.

But this study and more like it are showing results which prove that we act selflessly more because it is within us to be cooperative.cooperation

We are more than a mere number.

The mother who helped me out may have been motivated by empathy, sympathy or pure kindness, but either way she showed little regard for her own needs.

By nature, we are social beings and thrive on our interactions with those around us. But how easy it is to forget others when we are so focused, naturally, on our own lives. Lives which can seem frantic, stressful, even overwhelming at times.

I’m now thinking this is precisely when we need to be altruistic, selfless. Shift the focus if you will, onto others, be the support they need, cooperate with others and in turn, nurture that goodness within.

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