We think that the world is selfish, brutal and self centered. But what about people who have completely given their lives for others?. History is replete with copious examples. Today India is independent because of such amazing altruistic people who gave up their lives for India's freedom. Let us explore this intriguing attribute
Altruism: history and identity
The word “Altruism” was first mentioned in the early 1850s by Auguste Comte, a French Sociologist, as the central idea in his atheistic treatise ‘Religion of Humanity’. Altruism is caused when a person feels empathy for his fellow being who is in distress.People often tend to be selfless for the people whom they know, or they care about or are present in their social circle. But these extreme altruistic people are always ready to go out of their social circles to help even complete strangers. They are not restricted by social boundaries; they have a circle without a centre.
We all can be altruists. If we perceive more of the pains of people, we grow compassionate towards them. Being altruistic does not only mean donating blood or a kidney to a complete stranger or risking your life for someone. We can show altruism by various small actions like giving someone your food at the cost of staying hungry yourself or giving someone your jacket in biting cold. Such small acts give us immense pleasure and joy.
How does one exhibit an altruistic mindset
It happens when a person cares for other humans or even animals’ welfare more than his or her own, sometimes even at the cost of their own lives. People with such a mindset perform selfless acts of humanity without the expectation of anything in return. We can always try and identify such events in our own lives. We may experience an event in our lives early on which may have then seemed quite commonplace; it is much later that we recognize that we had actually encountered a true altruist then. Such acts inspire us all the more to perform such acts in our everyday life, knowing the happiness it brings.
The neurological perspective
Neuroscientists have related altruism to the size of the amygdala in the human brain. To establish the case, they have shown that psychopaths, who lie at the opposite end to altruists, have 17 ℅ smaller amygdala than normal people. Those who are extreme altruists are always ready to go out of their social circles to help people in distress and pain or we can say they are even willing to help complete strangers.
Altruism: a critique
Howsoever debatable it might seem, altruism may not always be a coveted virtue.There are instances of pathological altruism such as genocide, suicide martyrdom and co-dependency, which show that it is an attribute that needs to be treated with more caution than what meets the eye. Just like selfishness is not totally retrograde: there exists ‘healthy selfishness’ as well, coined by Eric Fromm. It is ultimately the intent that defines the veracity of one’s action.
To be an altruist, you need to love yourself and be a little selfish at first so that you are strong enough to help others . As humans, if we are firm with roots grounded well, the fruits we bear will be flavourful and copious that can be savoured by all.
About the authors
The article has been contributed by the following students from Our Lady Queen of the Missions School, Park Circus: Harshdeep Kaur, Sana Abbas, Jane Jennifer Victor and Imsa Alim.