Altruism is the opposite of selfishness. It is the practice of concern for the welfare of others. Not everyone is capable of altruism. Some people lack empathy toward others, and would only offer assistance if it benefitted them. Others will help people in distress even when helping could easily be avoided. Even toddlers can be observed to have a desire to help others. Animals have been seen to exhibit compassionate behavior at their own expense. Examples of altruistic behaviors are helping, sharing, cooperation, philanthropy, and community service such as volunteerism.
Research shows that people are more likely to help if they see a person in need and they feel personal responsibility for reducing their distress. Studies also have shown that the number of bystanders witnessing suffering affects the likelihood of helping. Too many bystanders may decrease individual feelings of responsibility. You may think someone else will respond.
There are benefits to looking out for others. Volunteering has a positive effect on happiness and current and future health and well-being. It improves mental and physical health and longevity. Interestingly, it works in the other direction. Happy people are also kinder.
Perhaps you are concerned about injustices, poverty, the environment, or any other social issue. You may think “I’m just one person, how can I make a difference?” It is said that your individual efforts may not change the world, but it could change the world of one person. You don’t have to do it alone. And in fact, studies have shown that feeling over-taxed and overwhelmed by the needs of others can have a negative effect on health and happiness.
I am a member of Rotary International. Last year, our local Rotary Club had a membership of fifty-one people. At a recent meeting, I asked our committee chairs to estimate how many people their efforts benefitted. Our club recognized 24 high school students who were nominated by their teachers as having made considerable improvements. We hosted an outing for 85 senior citizens. Approximately 300 people benefitted from our international service program, this year focusing on needs in Chili. Between 150-200 people have benefitted from a free furniture program. Our club distributed 350 dictionaries to 3rd grade children. Approximately 400 people were involved in an educational “roundtable discussion” focused on water. Additionally, 45 high school students received financial scholarships. We hosted a foreign exchange student from Spain, and sent out a student to Finland. We began a new project to fund GED’s and citizenship fees for people who need them. The Galena Rotary Club counted 1892 people served by fifty-one members last year. That is an amazing figure, particularly in this small rural town. We have changed the world for individuals, our community, and the world.
If you begin to feel apathetic, overwhelmed, depressed or burned out in your attempts to make a difference, I recommend that you join clubs or groups with other like-minded people. Each and every one of us, doing small things together, really can change the world.