Critical Response “On Compassion” Essay
Written by Barbara Lazear Ascher, On Compassion is a fascinating essay whose time of publication is not well known, though it was revealed in the Elle magazine in 1988. In her works, Ascher dwells much on the issue of compassion. According to her, compassion is that desire or want, to reduce the effect of a painful situation experienced by a person. She posits that compassion is not an innate trait, but comes by learning through the day-to-day experiences.
From her illustrations, the homeless people and in general, people who lack the fundamental requirements, food, shelter, and clothing, serve as what induces compassion, that is portrayed by the society today. However, rich in lessons to the society, criticism chips in, based on her view of the compassion in today’s society. Are all, able and willing to learn and apply this trait, as Ascher puts it? No, is the obvious answer.
Based on her view, she assumes that every person is literate. She is a lawyer, a sign that her level of literacy is quite higher and she able to learn and understand, even by seeing, the situation of other people. She can successfully identify a suffering individual, not only by what she can see or get from him/her, but also by her psychological revelations. This is only limited to the learned, like her, but all cannot fit in this category.
There are, in the midst of her audience, those who see and have interacted with all sorts of afflicted people, but have never offered any sort of assistance. Are they selfish or inhumane? Probably this is not the case. It is only that, they lack the knowledge of compassion, and need to be taught about it, not only through writings like Ascher, but also, orally.
In addition, the issue of homelessness needs clarification. The author gives the illustrations of the two men and the players, as homeless and helpless people, who deserve compassion.
She does not define the conditions of the homeless people. One cannot become dispossessed because he/she has been found on the way and neither can he/she become one simply because he/she is pleading or in rags! Ascher needs to extend her views basing on the current society.
The issue of business is on the peak and people have turned out to be business oriented. Entrepreneurs are everywhere today and as a feature of them, they are risk takers. This implies that they can sacrifice themselves, only to make sure that their businesses grow.
They are willing to spend time on the streets, in pitiful conditions, skipping meals, and pretending to be severely suffering, just to capture the minds of the compassionate people. They end up getting assistance. However, what is at the back of their minds is far from homelessness or hunger as people think, but business. Ascher ought to have clarified this issue.
Compassion is a choice. There is no external force, which can take it out of a person, other than the person him/herself. The author assumes that all are compassionate and are willing to show it off, but this is not the case. The truth of the matter is that all have the trait, but not all can extend it to others.
This is so because the decision to help is individual’s secret, even if the lesson of helping is taught to him/her. She fails to understand that cows can be taken to the river, but cannot be forced to drink the water. It is upon them to decide! She should therefore teach the subject of compassion to the audience and leave them to make their choice, whether to do it or not.
Ascher deserves credit for her works and particularly this essay on compassion. She has given a living example on what people ought to do concerning the issue of compassion in relation to the un- and disabled people. The many assumptions she makes when addressing this fundamental topic, creates the way for criticism, and ought to be clarified to all people before they apply compassion in the real world situations.
The Role of Compassion Essay
In her book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman explores the experience of a Hmong family struggling through the healthcare system of California. This book can throw light on the challenges faced by these people who have to confront a different socio-cultural environment. This source can be better analyzed with the help of the essay Mother Tongue written by Amy Tan.
This author also discusses the interactions between people who have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. It is possible to apply such a concept as compassion in order to examine the themes which Anne Fadiman explores in her work. This notion can be defined as the ability of an individual to understand and fill pity for the suffering of another person. To a great extent, this ability is critical for interactions between people who can have different cultural or linguistic backgrounds.
While Anne Fadiman’s this book seems to be primarily related to the impact of linguistic and cultural barriers on the experiences of immigrants, Amy Tan’s essay suggests that their difficulties can be explained primarily by lack of compassion which is essential for the emotional well-being of individuals. This is the main thesis that should be elaborated more closely.
Anne Fadiman’s book is a valuable source that can illustrate the problems which emerge when immigrants have to interact with healthcare professionals. It should be kept in mind that the representatives of foreign cultures often question “the efficiency of Western medical techniques” (Fadiman 23). As a rule, these people “require more time and attention” since the services of an interpreter are needed (Fadiman 25). These are some of the details that should be considered.
This text’s text can be analyzed with help of Ami Tan’s essay Mother Tongue, and this reading indicates that language barriers can significantly impair the experiences of immigrants. This source demonstrates that a person may find it extremely difficult to express his/her thoughts very clearly.
It is usually argued that they speak in “broken or fractured English” (Tan 48). Moreover, it is often assumed that these people think in a primitive way. The author speaks about her mother who also struggled with the language barrier. Many people assumed that “her English reflected the quality of what she had to say” (Tan 48). Thus, one can speak the discrimination against these individuals.
Admittedly, Anne Fadiman also provides numerous examples indicating that linguistic and cultural differences can prevent people from integrating into the society. For instance, the author mentions that medical professionals often have to communicate with teenaged children of patients and discuss such issues as surgery or resuscitation of “a dying family member” (Fadiman 25).
In most cases, such experiences are extremely stressful for family members. Moreover, Anne Fadiman’s book shows that physicians often had “no way of taking a patient’s medical history”; as a result, their choices of treatment could often be questioned (Fadiman 25). Therefore, the emphasis on linguistic barriers is quite justified.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that this problem is not the only reason why many immigrants can face significant difficulties. In many cases, their hardships can be explained by the inability or unwillingness of many individuals to feel compassion for the problems of others.
In order to illustrate this argument, one should look at the situation described by Amy Tan. In particular, this author mentions that her mother was suspected to have a benign brain tumor (Tan 48). The physicians lost her CAT scan and did not apologize for this mistake.
These people did not consider that she had been very “anxious to know the exact diagnosis” (Tan 49). Nevertheless, they only said that “she had come for nothing” (Tan 49). As a rule, individuals, who are treated in this way, often feel helpless or even desperate. This is why lack of compassion is one of the factors that profoundly affect the experiences of immigrants who are often left to their own devices. This is one of the main arguments that can be put forward.
It is possible to examine Anne Fadiman’s work from this specific perspective. For instance, when Lia was brought to the hospital, she was immediately diagnosed with “early bronchiopneumonia” (Fadiman 26). Yet, the physician did not consider the possibility that her symptoms could be explained by epilepsy (Fadiman 26).
A single conversation with parents could have helped him make the correct diagnosis. However, he did not try to do it. Later, Lia’s parents were asked by to give her certain drugs, and she was almost immediately discharged from hospital (Fadiman 26). Lia’s father was asked to sign the following statement, “I hereby acknowledge receipt of the instructions indicated above” (Fadiman 26).
The physician did not even make sure that parents could fully understand his instructions. This medical worker did not want to make extra effort. So, his indifference is one of the aspects that should be considered. Later, Lia was hospitalized once again, and the physicians made the same misdiagnosis. This is one of the most striking examples that should be considered. Provided that physicians had some compassion for this family, they would have used the services of an interpreter who could speak the Hmong language.
In this way, they could have eliminated the risk of misdiagnosis. Moreover, they might have considered that Lia’s parents felt virtually helpless when they had to deal with healthcare professionals. The main issue is that the physicians were not willing to discuss Lia’s condition with her parents. This is why this child did not receive appropriate medical assistance on time. This is the main problem should not be overlooked by the readers. Admittedly, there were some people who were genuinely willing to help Lia’s parents.
For example, one can mention Dan Murphy who immediately realized how frightened these people had been because they did not know how to help their daughter. Due to his effort, Lia’s parents received at least some support. This example is important for showing how the attitudes of physicians could differ from one another.
To a great extent, these examples suggest that immigrants may face a great number of challenges while trying to integrate into a new community. Certainly, their limited knowledge of English can be the cause of their hardships. However, more attention should be paid to the lack of compassion since this attitude makes their hardships virtually unbearable.
Admittedly, the role of cultural barriers should not be disregarded, but their impact can be mitigated provided that people try to put themselves in the position of one another. One can say that Anne Fadiman is useful for understanding the peculiarities of cross-cultural interactions. In turn, Amy Tan’s essay can throw a new light on the ideas that Anne Fadiman tries to express. These are the main details that should be taken into consideration.
Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012. Print.
Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue”. Across Cultures: A Reader for Writers. Ed. Sheena Gillespie and Robert Becker. New York: Longman, 2010. 46-52. Print.
“Selfless Gene” by Olivia Judson and reasons for altruism Essay (Critical Writing)
Human nature and morals that people possess have been questioned for a long time. It is often debated where feelings of kindness or aggression come from and the biological theme has taken a few attempts to give explanations. The article “Selfless Gene” by Olivia Judson, provides biological bases for altruism and kindness but in fact, it is a mix of both human social cooperation and natural environment.
The study of genetics and DNA has led to some discoveries that help determine which particular biological mechanisms are responsible for the individual characteristics between people. But the reality continues to confirm that the study of social and psychological life can yield better understanding for the reason of why people love or hate.
Altruism is one of the qualities that can be traced to the animal world and baboons and chimpanzees have been closely studied to confirm the findings. It has been shown that cooperation in groups leads to better strength and health of the group and this can be connected to Darwin’s natural selection theory.
It is undoubtedly evident that a group is much stronger than one individual and communication and mutual goals will lead to better and faster results. The article cites Darwin when talking about war and that it might be the cause for people uniting, thus it would be beneficial for them to survive. This point met some opposition, as natural selection was not attributable here.
The general outline of natural selection is that an individual who is strongest will survive and transfer their strong genes to their kin. But it is possible to conclude that in time of war people are even more interested in preserving their genes. No matter how developed people in the past were, they understood that they will not be able to lead a war against a group of people by themselves.
The self-preservation instinct led them to look for people who would cooperate with that individual or several and join into a group of cooperating members. In the end, this would ensure a better chance that their own genes would survive within the protection of the newly formed community. The proposition that people will not join others, who are of different race or background, also seems somewhat limited.
It could have been possible that in the old days, when people did not have evolved communication and language, they would express fear towards other groups of people who seemed different. But it is absolutely clear that in the face of a common danger, a natural disaster or a wild animal attack, they would not take time to conflict with each because the common goal is to save the life from an immediate threat.
The same can be seen in the modern times when people help each other in the face of a more consuming danger. A human being, naturally, realizes that there could be some communication and negotiation with another being of the same kind, whereas communication with flowing lava or an earthquake is impossible.
The modern evolution has given even more support to the fact that people of different races can live in harmony. The anti discrimination laws and human rights movement, have lessened the fear that people might have towards nations that are far away and unknown. Once people realize that the biology and social life of another race is the same, they tend to be more understanding and kind.
All of this leads into the point of altruism and the reasons for it. Biologists explain that being kind and caring to another person starts with relatives and people who are closest. According to the articles, kindness and altruism towards kin is very much understandable because the survival of someone in the family will lead to a greater chance of gene survival. All of this happens on an unconscious level and thus, cannot be analyzed as closely as conscious choice of individuals.
The voluntary decision that a person makes is much better observed and can be examined to determine the true reasons for kindness and help to a stranger. A quite reasonable and logical concept that everyone understands is that kindness will lead to better chances of self survival than a fight. When a person is involved in violence or war, they accept the possibility that there is a chance they might become a casualty. Right away, this understanding greatly decreases the expectance of the survival of one’s genes.
The avoidance of conflict is what will produce better results, even if the person simply pauses to arrange for back-up and members of the family or cooperating group. But even in this case, a violent conflict between two groups will have people realizing that there will be loss of life, which cannot be good for the transference of genes. But another important factor in altruism is that being kind can be traced to a subconscious level as well.
People might deeply believe that the fact that they will help someone, will lead to changes in that person, even if they are not related. People’s genes change not in the process of birth but during life. A person lives their life and the understanding that they acquire produces changes to the genes. This information gets transferred to the next generation. Biologists and scientists take an extreme focus on genetics and the connection between people who are related but evidence shows a different reason.
By helping a stranger, a person becomes somewhat “stronger” and more moral. This adds to their self-esteem which heightens the quality of their life and so, leads to better survival chances. Another major point is that by being altruistic to total strangers, a person creates a memory in that stranger that they were helped. Not only it instills thankful attitude in people globally but there is a chance that the two individuals will meet again, and the person who offered help will be in need themselves and so, the favor will be returned.
This way a person creates friends among strangers and the more this behavior is repeated, the more potential friends there will be. This distinctly points to the fact that people strive to develop positive communication with as many people as possible. This can even be seen in gangs where people with a common belief make one unit, only their common belief is not kindness.
Biology is without a doubt a big part of human behavior and attitude but an equal part is based on social behavior and common good. People understand that by cooperation they will create better chances of survival for themselves and the rest of people, whereas violent competition and wars will only lead to lives and genes lost.
Altruism and social behavior Essay (Critical Writing)
Altruism is the behavior where an individual feels morally obligated help others even if it is at their own expense. This behavior is a selfless act of concern for the wellbeing of others. Individual who practice this behavior also benefit from it, even though, the benefits may not be seen physically.
According to Maugham, altruism is as much for us as it is for recipients of the kindness. In his opinion, people do selfless things to other people in order to feel pleased with them. This is true because nicest things always happen to people do selfless things (Barber, 2004).
According to Stephen, altruistic emotions and behaviors associate with greater wellbeing, health and longevity. In a recent research, by the University of Miami done on patients with chronic conditions and HIV. Those who joined the support groups to help others lived for long.
When the patients help other patients, they heighten their sense of purpose which reduces their depression levels making them feel virtuous about themselves. This shows altruism is not only beneficial to the recipients of the meritorious deeds but also to the doers of the deeds (Doris, 2010).
According to Schwarzkopf Jr., 0ne cannot help somebody get up a hill without getting nearer to the top themselves. This is the basis of many self-help groups that exist today. It said that when one helps another person the act of helping heals the helper even more than the one helped.
This is so because when one helps another person in solving a problem. The person helping the other one gets to understand more ways of solving the problem than the recipients. Through this the helper also gets an added self-esteem that makes them feel virtuous of themselves.
Being altruistic can have physiological advantage to an individual. Patients with fight flight response are normally at danger of having a weakened body defense. It is a known fact that altruistic emotions and behavior do gain dominance over fear and anxiety that normally initiates the fight flight response.
Through helping others by volunteering in support groups to a condition called helpers high normally emerges in individuals. This causes quick and unspecified physiological changes that turn off the fight flight condition. This shows that the behavior of minding others even if we have serious medical conditions can be just as helpful to us as it is to others (Gilovich et al, 2006).
Altruism as behavior should be instilled in children when they are still young by their guardians, as they say, charity begins at home. When children begin to volunteer at early ages they get enhanced social competence and self-esteem. This also shields them from antisocial behaviors and substance abuse which may lead to early pregnancy resulting in academic failures.
Bringing up children with these teachings can add value to their future lives. Moreover, children brought up in this lifestyle normally end up with better mental and physical health in adult hood than those brought up without this behavior. This only shows to which extent altruism is beneficial to an individual who practices it (Harman, 2010).
The question in many people normally is altruism truly altruistic and does altruism exist. With the current world, there are people who do things in the name of helping others but their main aim is to help themselves. Politicians give out cash donations to the needy so that they can be seen as honorable members of the society, but in the real sense, they are using this behavior as a ladder to achieve their political ambitions. Obviously people will vote for those who are selfless and mindful of others who are in need of help (Nowak, 2011).
According to theory of social exchange all relationships have a give and take even though there is never equilibrium. People normally pretend to be altruistic, but yet they always expect something in return. Being altruistic means being selfless and doing right to others without expecting anything in return.
This theory, however, shows that, with the current world, we live in everything people do has a reason. A man will not buy a lady a car just because he thinks the lady needs a car; obviously the man has some hidden agenda to his generosity. The car may be the easiest way to get to the woman’s heart. This shows that even though the man did a noble thing of buying the lady a car he also expects something like marriage in return (Oakley, 2012).
Additionally, people disguise their hidden ambitions with generosity. This is exceedingly evident in the heroic things that people do for others. In recent times, the main culprits of this behavior are the celebrities and politicians who are out to improve their public image to the public.
They engage in fundraisers and community programs not because they like it but because they need it in their course. For politicians, it is always about publicity and improving their public image. This is so that when the elections come they will remind people of what they did for them when they needed help. This shows that even though they might have been selfless in fighting for the rights of the people, their motivation was never the people’s rights but their own personal ambitions (Scott, 2007).
According to Maugham altruism truly does exist and that people can act out of empathy. This theory is true especially when it means helping at a higher cost. By correctly identifying a person in need, it is possible for anyone to altruistic. Imagine a five year old child stuck in a burning house.
How many people will stand still and watch the child die? Many will try the best way they can save the child from the burning house. When helping the child, remarkably few people will be thinking about the fame and name they will build in case they succeed. The thing on most people’s mind will be the safety of the innocent child’s life. This shows that altruism can truly exist (Post, 2003).
There are many theories about altruism others support its motive as pure others questions the motives behind this behavior. However, all these theories agree that altruism is a beneficial character. Imagine a world where there is no altruism, firefighting jobs would be vacant because nobody is ready to risk their lives in order to save others. In conclusion, it is only wise to deduce that no matter the motive behind these selfless acts altruism will always be beneficial to oneself as it is to the recipients.
Barber, N. (2004). Kindness in a cruel world: the evolution of altruism. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books.
Harman, O. S. (2010). The price of altruism: George Price and the search for the origins of kindness. New York: W.W. Norton.
Nowak, M. A., & Highfield, R. (2011). SuperCooperators: altruism, evolution, and why we need each other to succeed. New York: Free Press.
Oakley, B. A. (2012). Pathological altruism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Post, S. G. (2003). Research on altruism & love an annotated bibliography of major studies in psychology, sociology, evolutionary biology, and theology. Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press.
Scott, N., & Seglow, J. (2007). Altruism. Maidenhead, England: Open University Press.
Doris, J. M. (2010). The moral psychology handbook. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
An Anonymous Act of Kindness Essay
The fundamentals of altruism, personal and professional social responsibility, and codependency
A recent anonymous act of kindness I have performed was donating time to the children from orphanage. In my opinion, it is extremely important to help those, who have no opportunity to satisfy certain primary needs. I suppose that children require more care and love than any other members of our society.
Generally, I would like to point out that it is upbringing, which determines the character of a child. So, when we show attention to children, we increase their chances to be happy.
One may suggest that my act of kindness can be called altruism; simply speaking it is; however, the issue of altruism is not so easy to disclose. There are many contradictions concerning the meaning of the term. The most widespread definition is mostly associated with seeking the welfare of people who need care.
On the other hand, one may suggest that altruism is a selfish act as people do good things and expect that one day the favor will be returned. “In fact, there is some question as to whether human altruism actually exists, or whether what we think of as altruism is actually just enlightened self interest” (Costello, 2002, para. 5).
When speaking about personal social responsibility, one is to keep in mind that the phenomenon identifies personal assumptions, motives, etc. in relation to social issues. Personal social responsibility means a person understands the importance of his or her biases and beliefs.
On the other hand, the kind of responsibility evaluates personal changes in one’s belief concerning some social issues. Such personal changes are evaluated through communication or contact time with other persons, organizations or groups. The phenomenon also demonstrates empathy for the persons through contact time and applies some philosophical theories towards the corresponding issues.
Professional social responsibility is mostly associated with an affirmation that the phenomenon emphasizes performance of codes of ethics and standards of conduct. In other words, professional social responsibility means a person is to be honest, respectful, kind, etc.
“Besides these general obligations that everyone shares, professionals have additional obligations that arise from the responsibilities of their professional work and their relationships with clients, employers, other professionals, and the public” (Loui, 2009, p. 2).
When speaking about codependency, one is to keep in mind that the phenomenon is related to physical and emotional sufferings and the methods of coping with stress. “As adults, codependent people have a greater tendency to form relationships with people who are unreliable, emotionally distant, and dependent” (“Codependency: Caring Until It Hurts,” 2006).
Taking into account the respective roles of altruism, personal and professional social responsibility and codependency, it becomes obvious that the relationships with other individuals, organizations and groups seem to be the most common feature of all the phenomena. In other words, a person’s attitude towards certain issues is determined by social relations and various philosophical aspects the issue includes or is based on.
Altruism and psychological principles
When speaking about the relation of altruism to psychology, it is necessary to state that altruism is considered to be the issue of social psychology. According to various psychological investigations, the most widespread approach to altruism seems to be the egocentric approach.
Sociology, psychology, economics and socio-biology are the sciences the egocentric approach is based on. The good habits people are to acquire, the responsibilities (or the duties) people are to follow and the results of people’s behavior are recognized to be the psychological principles of normative ethics altruism applies to.
The impact of altruism on human condition / the limits to the phenomenon
Generally, it should be pointed out that altruism improves a large-scale cooperation among humans.
Moreover, a culture-based approach towards altruism helps transmit numerous behavioral norms using social sciences. Human altruism reminds us of a strong reciprocity, i.e. “a combination of altruistic rewarding, which is a predisposition to reward others for cooperative, norm-abiding behaviours, and altruistic punishment, which is a propensity to impose sanctions on others for norm violations” (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2003, p. 785).
There are some reproductive limitations to altruism, namely functional, sexual and physical. However, of all the types the most influential were functional limitations, as they “had the strongest effect on altruistic decision-making, indicating that people were less likely to help those who exhibit abnormal social behavior” (Fitzgerald, 2009, p. 234).
Altruism and personal/professional responsibilities
Personal and professional responsibilities, which are related to altruism, include the freedom to make choices, taking responsibility for the choices which were made, taking responsibility for various feelings, ideas and thoughts, looking for the good, appreciating different views (or the opposite views), being respectful of other persons, being aware of the choices, etc.
In my opinion, the future of psychology in relation to altruism seems to be rather ambiguous question. As far as most of the scientists say that altruism is mostly associated with the egocentric issue, I can make a conclusion that the concept of altruism will be changed.
In other words, I suppose that cooperating will become the most important aim of the phenomenon. I can prove this. For instance, nobody will deny the fact that the primary aim of altruism is not to dominate or destroy. In other words, a person will always act in his or her best interests.
So, cooperation seems to be the best policy. I suppose there will be partial humanistic approach towards altruism, but generally, the meaning of the phenomenon will be changed. So, to hide selfishness and aggression (the so-called basic instincts), the society will become more altruistic; however, the hidden aim (to protect genetic interests) will always exist.
Finally, I have to say that the perspectives I described are not awful, but realistic. They are based on inherit nature of human beings. It’s time to tell the truth, don’t you think so?
Codependency: Caring Until It Hurts. (2006). Web.
Costello, C. (2002). Altruism: Selfless or Selfish. Web.
Fehr, E. & Fischbacher, U. (2003). The Nature of Human Altruism. Web.
Fitzgerald, C. (2009). Altruism and Reproductive Limitations. Web.
Loui, M. (2009). Ethics and Social Responsibility for Scientists and Engineers. Web.
Does True Altruism Exist? Research Paper
The selfless intention to help others otherwise known as altruism has been a subject of discussion for many social psychologists over the years. In the process, the issue whether true altruism exists or not has attracted both proponents and opponents in the same measure.
In the current issue, Daniel C. Batson and his colleagues propose an experiment in which they show evidence to suggest that people can help others for altruistic reasons in some circumstances.
Here, the proponents argue that empathic feelings play a role in creating altruistic behaviors towards those suffering. In their experiments, Batson and his colleagues hypothesize that the empathic feelings form part of the core motivators of helping, which may be purely altruistic.
The empathy-altruism (model) hypothesis is then tested in an experimental design whereby the researchers propose that a bystander observing a suffering person is bound to react in either of the two ways: by helping or escaping the situation (Batson et al., 1981, pp. 290-302).
Accordingly, the experiment entailed subjects observing a person in pain before choosing either the difficult way (helping the victim by enduring the pain on her behalf) or the easy way (escaping the situation without helping) out of the situation. Further, the researchers utilized a factorial design in which two levels of empathy (high or low) were crossed with two levels of escape (easy or difficult).
Generally, it was expected that the egoistically-motivated bystanders will choose the easy way out while the altruistically-motivated bystanders will be primarily concerned with the welfare of the victim, and thus, they will choose the difficult way.
As a result, the researchers presented evidence to support the empathy-altruistic hypothesis by showing that many subjects showing high empathy participated in helping the victim as opposed to their counterparts with low empathy (Batson et al., 1981).
On the other hand, Robert Cialdini and his colleagues decided to critically analyze Batson and his colleagues’ experimental results particularly those showing elevated helping scores for subjects expected to show high empathy according to the experimental design.
As a result, the opponents claim that empathy is not the only motivation for helping because people can sometimes help others in order to reduce their own distress as opposed to reducing other people’s distress. Furthermore, Cialdini and his colleagues argue that Batson’s experimental results do not conclusively show that pure altruism exists.
Here, Cialdini and his colleagues propose that the empathic orientation shown by the subjects may not necessarily lead to altruistic helping, but it helps to create temporary sadness or sorrow, which will then increase the chances that the subjects will help the victim through the difficult way (Cialdini et al., 1987, pp. 749-758).
As a result, the subjects in Batson and his colleagues’ experiments may have helped the victim out of egoistic reasons.
Therefore, in their experiment, Cialdini and his colleagues sought to separate the feelings of sadness from those of empathy among the subjects in order to assess the reliability of the findings of the former experiments by Batson and others.
As a result, the researchers replicated the earlier experiments by introducing some manipulations such as rewarding the subjects to relief them of the empathy-driven sadness during the experiment.
In the long run, the experimental results in Cialdini and his colleagues’ experiments supported their Negative State Relief Model, which suggests that helping can result from an egoistic interest to manage one’s feelings of sadness (Cialdini et al., 1987).
Batson and his colleagues have demonstrated an in-depth understanding of the issue of altruism in their discussions. From the issue discussions, it is apparent that the researchers understand the need to show the conceptual difference between egoism and altruism in order to suggest a behavioral difference between altruistically-motivated and egoistically-motivated helping.
Furthermore, Batson and his colleagues have shown the empirical ways of determining whether the behavior of helping others is either altruistically- or egoistically-oriented.
Moreover, the experimental design used to address the research question in Batson and his colleagues’ experiments is appropriate and sufficient enough to test their hypothesis. However, the experiments presented by Batson and his colleagues are limited by the fact that confounding factors such as induced sadness during the experiment are not controlled.
Conversely, Cialdini and his colleagues have also presented an equally strong case in which they seek to poke holes into the earlier experiments by Batson and others. The experimental model proposed by the researchers is appropriate and effective in showing other underlying factors that could influence the behavior of helping among the subjects besides empathic feelings.
Furthermore, the manipulations introduced by the researchers to Batson and his colleagues’ experiments are valid in determining other factors contributing to the subjects’ behaviors.
However, from Cialdini and his colleagues’ experiments, one can not determine conclusively whether the subjects’ behavior of helping is either altruistic or egoistic upon controlling for the underlying factors such as sadness. This limitation is apparent upon consideration of the unique nature of individual subjects, time, and other prevailing circumstances.
Overall, the concept presented by Batson and his colleagues is appealing in many aspects. First, the researchers provide a unique way of characterizing human behavior particularly the act of helping.
Secondly, the idea presented by the researchers in determining whether people’s behavior of helping is either altruistic or egoistic is clearly illustrated considering that Batson and his colleagues provide the conceptual and empirical basis of their argument.
However, it is important to factor in Cialdini and his colleagues’ contributions. Here, it is important to note that proper consideration of other confounding factors in Batson and his colleagues’ experiments will make the conclusions provided by the researchers more reliable in future studies.
Batson, C.D., Bruce, D.D., Ackerman, T.B., & Birch, K. (1981). Is empathic emotion a source of altruistic motivation? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40(2), 290-302.
Cialdini, R.B., Schaller, M., Houlihan, D., Arps, K., Fultz, J., & Beaman, A.L. (1987). Empathy-based helping: Is it selflessly or selfishly motivated? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(4), 749-758.
Acts of Kindness and Happiness in Human Life Research Paper
Even though happiness is an essential component of human life, there is no clear definition of what it is and what a person can do to achieve it. Different theories suggest a whole number of approaches that converge in some points and diverge in others. However, it is commonly accepted that an individual is likely to become happier and release negative feelings through an act of kindness towards another person (Della Porta, 2012; Buchanan & Bardi, 2010). An act of kindness is understood as a generous deed (benefiting certain people) that requires some effort on behalf of an agent but does not bring him/her any profit (Layous & Lyubomirsky, 2014).
The research at hand is aimed to prove that, to boost happiness through receiving positive emotions, a person should commit more actions that can be referred to as acts of kindness.
The present paper is based on the extensive literature review of the sources investigating the issue of happiness as well as various activities that help enhance personal satisfaction. These studies are analyzed to answer the following research questions: 1) How are acts of kindness related to happiness? 2) Which of them are the most happiness-boosting and what mechanisms do they use? 3) How can acts of kindness be applied to everyday life and treatment?
Chapter 1. Importance of Acts of Kindness for Happiness
Happiness is rather a vague notion having a lot of subjective definitions. Some researchers regard it as “experiences of frequent positive emotions and relatively infrequent negative emotions” (Della Porta, 2012, p. 1), while others define it as “a skill that can be cultivated” through the development of such important human qualities as benevolence, altruistic love, and compassion (Richard, 2011, p. 275). For the convenience of research, it will be understood as a state of mind characterized by a person’s total satisfaction with his/her current well-being, which makes him/her adopt an optimistic way of thinking (Lyubomirsky & Dickerhoof, 2011).
According to the construal approach to happiness, this condition is not self-regulated and can be achieved through positive emotions and cognition as well as various acts of kindness that are defined as positive behaviors. According to Richard (2011), such kindness-oriented behaviors are primarily based on the creation of appropriate inner conditions that allow diminishing self-centeredness and increase altruistic intentions in individuals. It is worth mentioning that such acts have to be neither random and spontaneous nor classified into a particular category (e.g. an anonymous act of charity). Kindness is rather a continual and intrinsic orientation towards ethical and human values that makes people more emphatic and stimulates them for the engagement in “prosocial, generous behaviors that promote goodwill and the well-being of others” (Richard, 2011, p. 277).
The most important and sole condition of kindness is that “the giver” must be selfless in his/her intention to do good to “the recipient” (Rudd, Aaker, & Norton, 2014). However, to enhance the effectiveness of acts of kindness, a person should try to engage in different activities instead of repeating the same actions regularly. For example, Lyubomirsky and Dickerhoof (2014) observe in one of their studies that when a person performs different acts of kindness throughout an enduring period, e.g., “do a new household chore one week, surprise their pet with a treat another week,” he/she attains a greater level of well-being than those people who continuously perform similar acts of kindness (p. 13). Therefore, it is possible to say that when kindness is expressed spontaneously and is triggered by intrinsic motivation rather than prompted by the external situations, it leads to more positive outcomes including happiness and promotion of both individual and common welfare.
From the Buddhist perspective, happiness is not given to a person as a gift but must come as a result of a particular behavior (Richard, 2011). From the perspective of positive psychology, happiness is directly linked to individual positive emotions, behaviors, and perceptions which can be formed either by the external life events and circumstances (the “bottom-up perspective”) or by a person’s biological and temperamental factors (the “top-down theory”) (Lyubomirsky & Dickerhoof, 2010, p. 230). In this way, based on the bottom-up principles of positive psychology, happiness can be achieved through performing pleasant activities (e.g. communicating with a company of close friends). However, from the Buddhist perspective, the satisfaction derived from such actions is incomparable to the condition achieved by committing a selfless act of kindness. Thus, happiness is understood as an active process rather than a final result. Active happiness implies that a person can contribute to shaping his/her well-being through various actions including meditative practices (Ricard, 2011), expression of gratitude (Della Porta, 2012), and development of optimistic thinking (Lyubomirsky & Dickerhoof, 2010).
Acts of kindness have no negative side effects. Besides, it has been proven by research that, in comparison to other activities enhancing happiness, they give the most impressive results. Acts of kindness manage to increase satisfaction by reducing negative feelings and are likely to give the person who performs them with a sense of achievement and self-significance (Della Porta, 2012). But Della Porta (2012) identifies an important factor that defines a positive effect of different acts of kindness on personal well-being – it is intrinsic motivation and the autonomy-supported environment. His findings are also supported by ideas outlined in Richard’s (2011) article which refers to “the enhancement of intrinsic values” (p. 278). It is possible to say that the improvement of individual inherent values can be encouraged by different social and religious actors, but, to increase the effectiveness of acts of kindness, people should not be forced to perform them but should rather be provided with the environment in which their orientation towards the performance of good and kind deeds will be increased.
Despite the evident advantage of acts of kindness, there exists an opposing point of view. A lot of people tend to believe that virtuous behavior is particularly hard to practice because some improvement activities may require additional expenses, time, and development of skills; moreover, many people tend to believe that happiness practices may be “of little use” as their results are not evident and, in most cases, rather questionable (Della Porta, 2012, p. 4). However, this vision of kindness is deluding virtue does not lack its rewards and benefits, both short- and long-term (Sandstrom & Dunn, 2011).
Chapter 2. How Acts of Kindness Promote Happiness
Though it is evident that acts of kindness contribute to the level of personal happiness, the ways of promoting it are not quite clear. A series of experiments were conducted to identify what mechanisms underlie an act of kindness and which of them are the most effective.
In one of such experimental studies, participants were asked to write a letter expressing gratitude. Their emotional reaction to this simple act was analyzed afterward. The results of the research showed that the more letters people wrote – the greater emotional gains they received. Therefore, gratitude as a particular act of kindness turned out to be a powerful tool in enhancing happiness and life satisfaction. Besides, it was assumed that expressive letter-writing might help people struggle with symptoms of depression (however, it is difficult to say whether acts of kindness are effective in eliminating the causes of depression) (Toepfer, Cichy, & Peters, 2012).
Although the study mentioned above proves the positive cumulative effect of acts of kindness, it does not manage to answer how such acts should be designed to ensure happiness boosting. Another study on the topic involved a series of laboratory experiments with the purpose to trace the dynamics of performing acts of kindness. It found out that those people who were given a more particularly-framed prosocial goal (e.g. were assigned to make another person laugh by telling a joke) felt much more content with performing their actions and achieving positive results than those who were given an abstract task contiguous in its function (e.g. to make a person feel happy) (Rudd et al., 2014). Such outcomes are explained by the discrepancy between reality and the participants’ expectations. Unlike the second group, those who had a concrete task could see the actual result of their performance, which matched their expectations (Rudd et al., 2014). Thus, to enhance happiness, an act of kindness must be designed in such a way that its outcomes are predictable and observable. When a person planning to perform an act of kindness is more or less sure what results are going to be obtained and what emotions the receiver will get, he/she feels sure that no side consequences will emerge to spoil good intentions (Rudd et al., 2014). Thus, the giver feels happier through the development of higher self-confidence.
Besides the immediate effect of satisfaction from a good deed, an act of kindness has long-term benefits. The concept of “pay it forward” suggests the idea of achieving happiness by starting a chain of acts of kindness (Pressman, Kraft, & Cross, 2015, p.2 ). The point is that the agent receives more positive emotions if his/her action manages to foster the altruistic behavior of the recipient making him/her repeat a similar act to other people rather than simply repay the giver. The results of the study by Pressman et al. (2015) contradict the findings obtained by Della Porta (2012) who claim that autonomous motivation is a necessity for gaining psychological benefits of an act of kindness because the pay-it-forward activity is a forced kindness intervention. As mentioned by the researchers, the study participants who performed a forced pay-it-forward activity reported increased “optimism, gratitude, life satisfaction, and joviality” (Pressman et al., 2015). However, the positive effects were rather short-term than stable. Either way, the findings make it clear that an act of kindness can encourage further positive behaviors (Pressman et al., 2015).
Chapter 3. Use of Acts of Kindness in Everyday Life and Treatment
Acts of kindness are capable of boosting happiness not only as a temporary context-dependent condition but also as overall life-satisfaction. An experiment carried out by Buchanan and Bardi (2010) aimed to prove that conducting new acts of kindness every day for a certain period (10 days) is capable of increasing the total life satisfaction of people regardless of their gender or age. A control group consisting of 38 males and 48 females aged from 18 to 60 was randomly selected, and they were asked to perform either an act of kindness, an act of novelty or restrain from any actions towards other people whatsoever (Buchanan & Bardi, 2010). Before and after this intervention, their life satisfaction was measured. The results demonstrated that life satisfaction increases in cases of experimental conditions and remains unchanged when the action was controlled or refrained from (Buchanan & Bardi, 2010). Thus, the experiment allows concluding that novelty is a pivotal component in happiness-boosting activities. Layous and Lyubomirsky (2014) express a similar viewpoint in their study stating that “people instructed to perform different acts of kindness each week (e.g., do a new household chore one week, surprise their pet with a treat another week) showed larger gains in well-being than those instructed to perform the same acts of kindness (e.g., do new household chores each week)” (p. 479).
The importance of variety in doing acts of kindness has already been mentioned: a person who performs the same act for a long period gets used to it as to a part of his/her routine and fails to derive any satisfaction from it after a while. On the contrary, varying acts of kindness (doing something new every day trying not to repeat the same action in sequence) gives a cumulative effect and boosts happiness much more effectively (Lyubomirsky & Dickerhoof, 2011). However, no matter how diverse acts of kindness might be, it is highly important to commit them regularly as the effect they produce should constantly be reinforced and enhanced for the agent to feel satisfaction (Layous, Nelson, Kurtz, & Lyubomirsky, 2016).
Thus, an act of kindness that can be classified as happiness-boosting is not merely an action of a certain sort but a part of a long-lasting habit. According to Lyubomirsky and Della Porta (2010), individuals who regularly express optimism frequently report “experiencing more positive events that linger with them;” moreover, it is found that the positive experiences provoked by optimistic behaviors increase happiness (p. 18). For instance, people who perform such acts regularly receive gratitude from the recipients, which makes them happier. It is also observed that a habit of conducting acts of kindness can even produce situations in which new friendships are likely to emerge (Lyubomirsky & Della Porta, 2010).
Acts of kindness apply not only to everyday experience but also as a tool used in conjunction with various therapies that aim to mitigate the consequences of psychological disorders. Healthy people naturally use adaptive strategies that help them cope with symptoms of depression and apathy: they try to avoid pessimistic thinking, interpret upsetting circumstances in a positive light, etc. (Lyubomirsky & Dickerhoof, 2011). At the same time, Toepfer et al. (2012) observe that unlike healthy individuals, people with affective disorders are unable to adapt to the changing reality and tend to feel unhappy every time things go wrong. Nevertheless, evidence suggests that a pessimistic predisposition can be alleviated not only in healthy individuals going through a hard period of life but also in people suffering from various disorders such as depression or generalized anxiety.
However, “practicing positive, intentional activities may directly combat the effects of negative construals (which characterize generally unhappy people), while simultaneously promoting the effects of positive construals” (Lyubomirsky & Dickerhoof, 2011, p. 236). These findings are consistent with observations made by Toepfer et al. (2012) who suggest that the acts mentioned above of kindness (expressing gratitude, showing generosity, prompting others to act kindly, etc.) may help depressed individuals enhance self-satisfaction and feel happier. Social connections that are established in the process of performing a good deed assist perfectly in treating social anxiety decreasing negative emotions provoked by the idea of communicating with new people. As far as depression is concerned, acts of kindness help shift attention from introspection to other people’s problems and concerns. When a person gets distracted, he/she is more likely to recover from this condition (Lyubomirsky & Dickerhoof, 2011). Thus, targeting positive patterns of behavior can assist in the process of eliminating and preventing maladaptive self-perception as well as the perception of the environment.
The research at hand was aimed to explore acts of kindness as an effective method to enhance happiness. It focused on the ways personal satisfaction, positive emotions, a life-asserting perception of the world, and general well-being can be attained through performing particular actions and developing habits. Understanding the significance of acts of kindness (especially in their relation to happiness) is useful and can be applied not only to everyday life but also as a complementary therapy for treating social and affective disorders.
The research has shown that a person should produce as many acts of kindness as the circumstances allow, trying to diversify them as much as possible since novelty contributes to happiness derived from a good deed. The mechanisms that foster happiness through acts of kindness – emotional response, observation of positive results, and involvement in chains of good deeds – have been investigated and explained.
The conclusion that is to be made is that the applications of the acts of kindness techniques prove to be effective no matter what domain is chosen for action and what goals (short- or long-term) is to be achieved.
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