Kindness as a Quality of Life--On Altruism Versus Selfishness

At a visit to Jen Gresham's blog today, she wrote an intriguing post on an experiment concerning altruism versus selfishness. I had a number of random thoughts while reading, some directly and some peripherally related. I thought I'd share them with my readers too:

1) Teaching morality and ethics to sophomores, one does mountains of values clarification with students. I remember one of the girls coming to this, “It doesn’t matter what we say now. You don’t know what you’ll do until you’re actually IN the situation. It’s fine to SAY you would never save yourself and not your kid if there was a fire, or if you were in a sinking boat and you could only save one of you. But until you’re really in the situation, you don’t know what you’ll do. None of us does. ”

 Denali Park, Mt. McKinley (public domain photo)

2) The larger insight these classes inevitably come to is the “mile in her moccasins” conclusion, how we shouldn’t judge others.

3) The thing about life, her tragedies and her graces, both teach us so much about what we’re really made of. Some say you can gauge a person’s worthiness more by how good a winner he is, than by how good a loser. I wonder if that’s true.

4) I like the parable about the debtor who begged for mercy and was given more time to pay back his debt to a magnanimous lender. Off he went, happy as could be, only to accost the first person he met who owed him, threatening this lesser debtor with jail, etc. When the wealthy lender learned of this behavior, the original debtor was soundly rebuked and rousted off to debtor’s prison.

5) A final thought: working at large corporations for some years, I've found an interesting pattern: The higher up the leadership tiers I've moved, the more generous I've found folks to be. Scrapping and backstabbing generally take place at the lower and middle management tiers. People at the top have been almost unanimously very helpful and kind. I realize that may sound boring compared with, and a bit anomalous to the Hollywood “Wallstreet” and “Devil Wears Prada” cliches. Oh well.