Altruism: What are you doing for others?

By Dr. Valtreasa Tolliver-Cook

In his speech entitled, “Conquering Self-Centeredness” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” It is believed by many that helping others should come natural. This may be true for some, but not so true for all. The truth is altruism, the unselfish concern for people’s happiness and welfare has its pros and cons. The focus of this blog post is to discuss the pros and cons of helping others and identify ways we, as every day citizens, educators, and human service providers can help others.

What are you doing for others?

As a social worker and an educator, I am constantly asking myself this question amongst many more, such as:

  • What more can I do?
  • How can I understand people and their needs better?
  • How can I serve my clients or students in a better way?
  • What extraordinary things could I do to help others?
  • Have I given my very best?
  • Am I really making a difference in the lives of others?

I have always believed that my life’s purpose was to help others. My passion for helping others is what lead me to become a social worker and an educator. Despite the many trials and tribulations that I have experienced along the way, I am blessed that I have accomplished much in life and it is my desire to help others to accomplish their dreams as well. My answer to the question, what am I doing for others? A lot!!!

Pros of Helping Others

Helping others can be an opulent experience. Not only does it provide support to those on the receiving end, it makes you, the helper, feel better too. In fact, Val Halamandaris, President of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice and leader of the Last Great Civil Right Movement stated, “The true value of human life is determined by the extent to which it is used to help others.” In addition, Mahatma Gandhi once said that “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Helping others has personal, professional, and health benefits. To name a few:

  • Helping others gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment, you feel good about yourself and grateful for what you have, and increases your level of self-esteem and self-confidence;
  • Helping others allows you to gain valuable life experiences, acquire new skills and can put you on a path to your future career; and
  • Research suggests that there are mental health and physical benefits to helping others, for example it lessens stress, anxiety and depression, lowers blood pressure and improves overall physical well-being.

Cons of Helping Others

Unfortunately, helping others does not come as easy as you may think. Helping others can be overwhelming, demanding, and quite frustrating. Those of us in various helping professions, may experience burnout, compassion fatigue, or vicarious trauma. Life can be very complicated and chaotic; therefore, helping others isn’t always easy. It can sometimes interfere your schedule and cost you time, energy, money, your health and other resources. All too often, we get too caught up in our own problems to give people the help they need. Sad, but true a lot of the help we provide is unappreciated. However, it is important to remember that these consequences of helping others happen because we care, because we empathize with those who are hurting or in need, and because we feel committed or responsible to help.

How We Can Help Others

Here are a few ways we can helping others, whether big or small; whether public or private; whether friends, family, or strangers: How can we help others?

1) Treat others how we want to be treated

This is the “Golden Rule.” I believe that what goes around comes around. I believe if you do good deeds to others, the same will be done to you. For example: When you are feeling down, you want others to be compassionate; you want to be treated with love and respect; when you make a mistake, you want to be forgiven and given the benefit of the doubt, a second chance.

2) Share your knowledge

Every day there is an opportunity to share your knowledge. It is one of the easiest ways to help others. You don’t even have to be an expert. We all have wisdom to share. We can share knowledge simply by communicating with others. As a social worker, educator, a wife (a preacher’s wife), a daughter, and friend, I share my knowledge with others on a daily basis, my knowledge about helping others, available resources and opportunities, and words of wisdom for living a good life. The key is to keep educating yourself so you can stay current and you can have something to share.

3) Share your resources

Sharing is a good thing. One of the first things, we teach our children is to share. Brian Tracy, Chairman and CEO of Brian Tracy International said, “Love only grows by sharing. You can only have more for yourself by giving it away to others.” Author Ursula K. LeGuin conveyed that “Nothing is yours. It is to use. It is to share. If you will not share it, you cannot use it.” Share within reason. Don’t overdo it, keep it balanced! Your resources may include your time, money, food, living space, books, etc.

In addition, Michael Angier (2016) in his article entitled, “Top Ten Ways to Help People Realize their Potential”, provides the following as ways we can help others:

4) Be a good role model

According to Angier (2016):

“One of the best ways we influence is by our own actions. Who we are speaks much more loudly than what we say. Don’t think that people aren’t watching you. They are. And they’re registering everything about you consciously and unconsciously. We automatically emulate our role models. And we’re ALL role models to someone so let’s be good ones.”

5) Believe in them
According to Angier (2016):

“We all have self-doubts from time to time. Our confidence is shaken. We lack the faith in our talents and skills to go after our dreams. Having someone believe in you is priceless. The stories of great men and women are saturated with examples of someone who believed in them even when they didn’t fully believe in themselves.”

6) Encourage them
According to Angier (2016):

“You can do it.” “I know you can.” These are words that are all-too-infrequently voiced. Sincere encouragement can go a long way in helping someone stay the course. The more specific you are, the better the results.

Finally, no matter how hard the sacrifice, at the end of the day, the pros of helping others outweigh the cons and the challenges that we face when trying to help someone. Remember that helping others allows you to connect to one another and your community, ultimately making it a better place. We all want the world to be a better place. So in the words of John Wesley, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

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