Make text smaller
Make text larger
?Belisarius asking for alms? (translated), a painting by the French artist Jacques-Louis David. Giving alms to the poor is often considered an altruistic action.
2 of 2
Altruism is a selfless concern for the welfare of others. I have known about it as a construct in psychology because it is a trait examined and that has been used in various research for years. That research tradition goes back to near the beginning of the last century, but if a person were to look up altruism at the PsycInfo database of the American Psychological Association, he or she would find a rich mix of current research that includes investigations of the altruism in contrast to narcissism or Machiavellianism (narcissism being an overly inflated view of ones greatness or importance and Machiavellianism being a ruthless use of other people as means to ones various ends).
For instance, in a new book, The Social Psychology of Morality: Exploring the Causes of Good and Evil, Avi Assor wrote a chapter in which he adopted the view that human actions can be seen as highly moral if they involve an attempt to take into account others needs while paying a significant personal cost. He further asserted that this definition is closely related to the notion of altruistic behaviour, that is, rescuing persecuted minorities at considerable personal risk.
I think what he is talking about goes beyond simply feeling compassion. One can have empathy for another person, and certainly psychotherapists and various other kinds of people helpers do well when they display the ability to feel with, or share in the emotional experiences of others with whom they have to interact. In fact, to enter into the experience of another, to so take the others perspective as to be able to attune oneself to what they are experiencing is quite helpful in connecting with others and building relationships with them. When I was a Minister of Children working in two large, urban churches (one in Portland, Oregon and the other in Sacramento, California), I would play with the children. I would get down on the level of the children, look them in the eyes, and let my child out, and I was successful because I could connect with them. When I was pastoring small, rural churches in California and Oregon, and I had to conduct a funeral, that meant that I had to meet with grieving family members and friends of the deceased. While it was possible to maintain a completely professional attitude and take care of business, I found that was rarely successful. What I had to do was allow the sadness and loss to touch me, and when it did, I felt it. It was difficult to get business taken care of when I was crying along with the grieving, but that is what made things more successful.
Altruism can be part of such things, especially that last part about setting aside the needs I had to take care of business as a clergyman who had to perform a funeral, but altruism is not, in itself, the same thing as empathy or compassion.
Since altruism involves a setting aside of ones self, it requires that one has a sense of ones self to begin with. Some people believe in a set and rather permanent self, and others think of a more transient and ad hoc sense of self that is dependent on what is going on in the situation.
In an article titled Self-Centeredness and Selflessness: A Theory of Self-Based Psychological Functioning and Its Consequences for Happiness, written by Michal Dambrun and Matthieu Ricard, and appearing Review of General Psychology the authors state that their model
proposes that the attainment of happiness is linked to the self, and more particularly to the structure of the self. We support the idea that the perception of a structured self, which takes the form of a permanent, independent and solid entity leads to self-centered psychological functioning, and this seems to be a significant source of both affliction and fluctuating happiness. Contrary to this, a selfless psychological functioning emerges when perception of the self is flexible (i.e., a dynamic network of transitory relations), and this seems to be a source of authentic-durable happiness. (from the abstract at the PsycInfo database)
I am glad to see this kind of support in the research literature. Understand what they are saying. They are not saying that happiness results from a loss of self, but from a fluid sense of oneself that can flex with the needs of any given situation. A rigid self, a set story about who one is, what ones roles and entitlements are, including for what one is personally responsible, leads to interpersonal misunderstanding and contention.
Jesus challenged people to deny themselves and to pick up their crosses and follow Him. Paul told the Roman Christians, For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. That came in the same context as him telling them first, Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of Gods mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God this is your true and proper worship. Sacrifice and service to others what psychology and philosophy both call altruism is linked to faith and worship.
Psychologically it takes a person with a fluid sense of self to do these things. One must, in faith, trust God and hand oneself over to Him. One must value the God in whom one trusts, adoring, and marvelling at His Being and His nature. Knowing oneself in the context of such faith and worship, knowing oneself as yielded, as believing and worshipping, is definitely having an experience of self. Certainly, no Christian is advised to deny THAT self, are they?
Altruism is not simply an abstract concept you can read about in psychology text books. Altruism is a character trait in a person who responds self sacrificially to the needs of others. One must first have a self before one can sacrifice ones self. Altruism is one of those subjects that transcend the bounds of psychology, philosophy, and theology, to say nothing of practical Christianity.
Make text smaller
Make text larger
Published Nov 22, 2011 at 8:15 am
(Updated Nov 22, 2011 at 8:12 am)
- Exploring the character trait of altruism
- Reducing heart disease risk for diabetics with stomach surgeries
- Exploring the benefits of Mayan abdominal massage
- . . . and what a Mayan abdominal massage did for me
- Kid-friendly chicken, pumpkin and apple stew
Today's Top Stories
Make your company a world wide known name with us!
Varius sociis natoque penat
Parturient montes, nascediculus muulla dusce feugiat males.
Dolor maleauada orcines
Montes nascediculus mulla dusce feugiat malesuada odio.
Sires dolor natoque penat
Turient montes nascediculus ulla dusce feugiat malesuada odio.
Mulla montes dusce
Ontes nascediculus mulla dusce er feugiat malesbdio gravida.