A Little Altruism Experiment
An experiment of one altruistic act a day.
Posted January 23, 2010
Recently I began a little experiment to see whether I could do one altruistic act a day. There are many people who do a great many things, so it is often intimidating to think that doing one altruistic act a day could get very far. However, my hope is that it inspires others to also do generous acts for others. Maybe my one drop in the bucket won't account for much, but one drop is a good start.
Most definitions of altruism discuss the idea that the altruistic act is unselfish and that it provides no benefit to the person performing that act. That is a tough definition to live up to and many others have discussed whether a pure altruistic act is even possible. My goal is to live with the spirit of that intention. Thus, I chose to write this blog completely anonymous. I am quite certain that if I were not anonymous this blog would help my career. Potential dates would most likely find me doing this project an admirable quality. However, I want to see whether I can attempt to do it just for the sake of doing it. In fact, I hope to go as unnoticed as possible in many of my altruistic acts . One example is giving food to homeless people who are asleep so that I don't receive thanks. However, there are times when I certainly benefit from my altruistic actions.
Dacher Keltner has a great book, titled: Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. Honestly, I have just started this book. I thought it would provide good motivation to keep this project going.
Early on in the book, Keltner speaks about jen, which comes from Confucius. Jen refers to a complex mixture of kindness, humanity, and respect that transpires between people. A person of jen "brings the good things of others to completion and does not bring the bad things of others to completion." Jen is felt in that deeply satisfying moment when you bring out the goodness in others.
Keltner speaks about the jen ratio, which captures the balance of jen compared to other negative events. In the top part of the ratio, are all actions in which you or other people have brought good to others - a kind hand on your back in a crowded elevator, a compliment to a stranger, laughing as a stranger accidentally steps on your foot. In the bottom of the ratio are the occasions in which you or others have done the opposite - the aggressive driver who swears at you as he roars past, the disdainful diner who sneers at at a person who is homeless. Higher ratios translate to greater jen in life.
My goal is to try to bring a little more jen into people's lives and to inspire others to do the same.