Helping 101

One of the many reasons I love my writing job is that I get paid to learn stuff. Right now I just happen to be researching and writing an upcoming magazine story that’ll share a lot of what experts know about the science and motivation behind doing good. (Keep watching this space – I’ll be giving more details as the magazine issue gets closer to publication.)

Of course, I often write about good deeds. But this in particular is a fascinating opportunity to dig deeper: What’s the survival value of this behaviour? What exactly spurs people to help others, either consciously or subconsciously? We know the research shows it’s good for our mental and physical health. And most of us have experienced firsthand that nebulous warm glow of giving. But where does it all come from?

This week I’ve had the pleasure of chewing over these questions with two psychologists and a cultural anthropologist. (Just the fact that it takes Ph.D.-level brains to decipher do-good behaviour shows it can be complex stuff!) This assignment promises to be a great ride. More info to come.

5 responses to “Helping 101

  1. Dear Lisa,

    I am a follower of Buddhism. The Green Tara, who embodies compassion and action, has resonated with my life goals. I have found that having compassion for another person is not always enough but that we must then move to take action. Translating this into daily practice became linked to my career choice as a humanitarian/developement worker. My choice of work was/is strongly linked to my belief of being compassionate and taking action; and I always felt that I had achieved my goals through my work.

    It overwhelms me with awe when people do feel compassion. And it still surprises me if people cannot feel compassion for others. These days I am focused on learning how to teach my daughter to be compassionate? Children learn from seeing their parents’ do. I always thought I would teach my daughter through her observing me at work as a humanitarian worker. However, we have moved to a small town in Ontario and I am struggling to find work that embodies my convictions. I do volunteer work with various social agencies but I have not been able to combine meaningful work with income.

    Some days this has me quite depressed. So I find your research to be of significant value to me when I am thinking about taking a job I find less meaningful. I am inspired by your interest in the subject to keep me searching for more ways to act kind.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Jill, which hits very close to home. One thing I realized while my daughter was still very young was that the very modest things I did in front of her (holding the door for a senior) made much more of an impression on her than the paid work I did during the day. Even though I may have felt I was making a bigger difference with my day job, this was abstract and remote as far as she was concerned. She learned more from the concrete little acts of kindness that she witnessed herself. The other thing to note is that, in my opinion, there can be meaning in all kinds of jobs when you think about it. Someone who works at a Tim Horton’s may not be saving malnourished kids in Africa, but she could be helping dozens of people to start the day in a terrific frame of mind just by giving her customers a great smile or a compliment. And from there, the ripple effect has untold potential! I guess my point is that small acts of kindness can be huge gifts. I’m really glad you’ve shared your thoughts on this.

  3. Hi Lisa,

    I agree with you that the small acts of kindness can be huge gifts. This is what can be shown on a daily basis to our children! Thanks for reminding us of this!

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