“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” – Albert Pike
The value of giving is deeply rooted in our psyche or human nature. Statistics show that 2.1% of the USA’s GDP or $410.02 billion was donated to charities and Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs) in 2017. This was an increase of 5.2% from 2016.
Scientists, medical professionals, economists, and mental health experts do not know why people are altruistic. Summer Allen and Jill Suttie discuss this phenomenon in their article titled “How our brains make us generous”.
In this article, they posit that “typical explanations suggest that these behaviors involve suppressing our true, selfish nature and must instead be motivated by external factors, such as the possibility of future rewards or to avoid negative consequences, like appearing selfish to a potential love interest.”
Furthermore, Allen and Suttie pose the following questions:
- Is altruism an innate part of being human?
- Or, is the reason for giving to organizations like Yad Ezra V’Shulamit simply because it makes us feel good?
By way of answering these questions, let’s consider the following points:
Altruism: An innate part of human nature or not?
Altruism is defined as a “quality possessed by people whose focus is on something other than themselves, and its root reveals the object of those generous tendencies.”
The greatergood.berkeley.edu online journal notes in its article titled “What is altruism” notes that, even though some people believe that humankind is fundamentally self-centered and self-absorbed, recent studies have found that people’s initial impulse is to cooperate rather than to compete against each other. The article cites the scenario where toddlers automatically reach out to help people who require assistance is a natural concern for their well-being.
Furthermore, evolutionary scientists posit that altruism has such deep origins in human nature because assisting each other as well as working together promotes the survival of the human species.
However, the flipside of altruism, self-centeredness, or meanness, is also a predominant human condition in the modern world.
A modern case in point is Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States. Statistics show that 73% of Republicans and individuals who lean towards the Republican political stance believe that Trump is self-centered. Despite this statement, 80% of Republicans support Trump’s stance on the critical issues facing the USA. However, circa 31% of these individuals like the way Trump conducts himself as an individual.
Finally, 41% of all Americans thought that the Trump administration’s policies were not taking the COVID-19 associated risks seriously enough. James Hohmann notes that “Trump himself has emerged as the administration’s greatest obstacle to sending a clear and consistent message about the coronavirus.”
Unfortunately, the consequences of the Trump administration’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic are seen in the high numbers of infected individuals and deaths in the USA. Both the death rate (84 136 people) and the infection rate (circa 1.39 million people) are the highest in the world.
The value of giving: Does it make us feel good?
Summer Allen also compiled a whitepaper titled “The Science of Generosity,” where she states that “humans are generous people.” She also notes that the University of Notre Dame’s definition of generosity is the “giving of good things to others freely and abundantly.”
Therefore, as highlighted above, the question that begs is, “why do people give?” The answer to this question is multifaceted, with recent neuroscience studies demonstrating that when people give, the areas in the brain that signal pleasure and reward are activated. Furthermore, giving or generosity is strongly associated with improved overall health and even delayed mortality.
The caveat to the improved mental, emotional, and physical benefits of giving is that people have to choose to help of their own accord. The same benefits of generosity do not seem to apply when individuals are forced into giving.
Allen notes in her whitepaper that scientific studies have shown a link between generosity and happiness. Some people are happier spending money on others rather than themselves. And, this feeling motivates generosity. Therefore, generosity becomes a positive lifecycle; ergo, giving equates to overall health, wellbeing, and happiness. This emotion, in turn, promotes more giving, which restarts the cycle.
It is essential to continue giving during the global pandemic caused by COVID-19, even though most people are facing economic hardships, and no one really knows what the future holds. However, there are positives as described by Aswath Damodaran in his video chat with Noah Kagan. And, it is vital to keep on moving forward, keep on giving, and working out each day while the world slowly comes to grip with the “new normal,” or the new way of living post-COVID-19.