ALTRUISM is the act of helping others. We do it without expecting anything in return. For example, when we see the poor asking for food, we give them food.
During the Altruism Day conducted by my university department last month, students saw many ways to help others.
Altruism is more commonly understood via volunteerism.
A study (Happiness, Health and Altruism by Stephen Post, 2016) suggested that people volunteered to alleviate their anxiety and depression because helping others gave them joy.
Seeing somebody happy makes us feel good.
Altruism can override negative emotions, too. For example, those who like to help others are more likely to live happily. While lending help, one will forget about one’s hardship.
A recent study on preschoolers in China, who have strict parents, showed that those having a higher altruism level felt less anxious about their parents’ sternness (Child Abuse & Neglect, PubMed Journal, Volume 65, by Kwok, et al. 2017).
The study explained that children’s positive emotions arose from the delight in helping others and affirming their friendship with others.
This dispelled the anxiety from thinking too much about their parents pushing them to excel in school.
Another possible explanation is that altruistic people are less preoccupied with their selves.
This can divert their attention from negative thoughts, which will facilitate their growth.
But, we may find that there are those who may not know the delight in helping others. They are not to blame because they are not used to helping or asking for help, especially in urban areas.
Physical help is less needed in today’s life, which leads to the absence of altruism.
Help is perceived as something that comes from money, tools and gadgets one owns, not from people living around us.
Society becomes distant, and more and more people fail to grasp the delight of helping.
In the days when life was much simpler, people relied on their neighbours for help. This promoted interpersonal relationships and led to a closely-knit society.
Why can’t we rekindle the act of helping each other by instilling it in our young? Getting the young to help with chores can prepare them for life.
I recall watching a video clip showing Japanese schoolchildren scrubbing their canteen floor. The video says the school does not need janitors.
It also shows the children taking turns serving their schoolmates who buy food and drinks at the canteen.
Then it shows them opening milk cartons to be washed by those on duty. The washed cartons are then taken to a recycling centre. While doing their chores, the children interact and play.
By this measure, helping and doing chores should be encouraged and practised at home, school, college and university.
Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran said: “Life is all service, and I saw that service is joy.”
MEGAWATI OMAR, Academy of Language Studies, UiTM, Shah Alam, Selangor