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A Little Altruism Update

Do people who are homeless need to eat organic food?

In starting this blog, my hope was to document my altruistic acts (and to hopefully inspire others). As I went about this project, I wondered how much reading comments and discussing my acts became a reward for myself (rather than a truly altruistic act). Thus, I stopped posting but continued the project.  In the past year I have had some amazing experiences (and some not so good ones). Here are a few highlights and questions that arose:

  • Do people who are homeless need organic food? -- As I started this project I found one of the easiest tasks was to bring food to people who were homeless. It became my go to act if I had not done anything else that day (or even if I had). It began as bringing leftovers and extra food that I had in my house. However, I found more people who needed food and I needed a new strategy. I then began buying food in bulk. One question I started to ponder was whether I could feel good about buying low-priced food. For example, noodles and pasta were ideal foods to cook and relatively inexpensive. I wondered whether I should make the foods part of a healthy diet. Thus, I added vegetables to the pasta I was cooking. As I continued I wondered whether I should include organic vegetables (which I try to include in my diet as much as possible). I eventually repaired my cognitive dissonance by changing my behavior to eat less organic vegetables.
  • Does my cooking stink? - I often had people question why I was bringing them food or being suspicious of some random person bringing them food. However, as people got to know me they accepted what I was doing. What I found interesting would be that people who had eaten my food before would not take it at a later time. I will protect my self-esteem and say to myself that they must have eaten earlier.
  • Is it safe to feed the homeless? - In finding people who are homeless, I would walk to areas that people might call unsafe. Part of me liked the adventure and I didn't feel scared going into the situations. I never carried my phone or wallet (in part because I thought I could be robbed and in part because I did not want to get in the habit of giving out money). One day I was robbed at gunpoint. Although I am not sure if it is robbery if I did not lose anything. I was very anxious and tried to explain that I was just bringing food and I had no wallet. I showed my empty pockets and eventually was able to get out of the situation. Another time an altercation between two people who were homeless was started right in front of me. Luckily, they ended it rather quickly because I did not know what I would do.

Overall, I found this project to be highly enjoyable. I don't think my enjoyment counts as a truly altruistic act.  I did my best to avoid getting praise and to try to make it an activity that I would not feel rewarded.  However, it was often difficult to not feel good about it. Thus, rather than getting into a discussion of whether it was an altruistic act, I will call it prosocial behavior.  I enjoyed my prosocial behavior and it was often a way to get out of my own problems by focusing on others (a topic of a future blog).  

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Craig D. Marker is the Chair of Psychology at Keiser University and Founder of the Anxiety Treatment Clinic. 

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