In my last post, I proposed that altruistic behavior may be considered as comprising five categories for a total of 32 different ways in which we show our regard for others. In that blog, entitled “32 Kinds of Altruism,” I enumerated briefly all 32 forms of altruism, and then I offered more detailed definitions and examples of the first group—Thoughtful Communication (six kinds). In this week’s post, we look at seven more kinds of altruism that fall under the category that I have called “Positive Regard.” While last blog’s emphasis was on communication skills, this week’s emphasis is on both verbal and nonverbal ways of showing positive regard for others.
Positive regard (7).
1. Compassion—awareness of the suffering of others and attempting to help in relieving that suffering. Compassion has both a knowledge and an action component: educating oneself as to the specific details about the suffering of an individual or group, and then acting in your own way to relieve some aspect of the suffering, whether it be through providing money, pressing governments and other agencies to provide relief, a shoulder to cry on, physical labor, offering expertise, giving shelter, or some other action. A friend’s wife died of cancer some dozen years back. On her death bed, she asked me to “Take care of him.” A week or two after her passing, I asked him what the hardest time of the day/week/month was. He quickly replied “Friday nights—we used to go dancing every Friday night and I miss that terribly.” So for the next several months, every Friday night we did something together to replace that emptines
2. Nonverbal positive energy—directed at supporting the efforts of others. In his 1993 novel The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield described the practice of providing nonverbal support when someone you care about is in the spotlight in some way. When your business partner is making a speech or leading a meeting, you offer abundant eye contact, smiles, appropriate head nods, and in general pay attention and react in a supportive way, as opposed to shaking one’s head, frowning, texting, doing a crossword puzzle, doodling, and other nonsupportive gestures. You are in effect being a silent cheering section for the person you value. Another form of nonverbal positive energy is “mirroring,” whereby you mimic certain language, gestures, clothing, and so forth of the other person. This technique is what the neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) enthusiasts practice—your partner walks slower, you walk slower; your partner talks faster, you talk faster; your partner maintains eye contact, you do also; your partner sits erect, you sit erect, and so on.
3. Optimism—giving both others and self the benefit of the doubt, when appropriate. Optimism entails viewing successes and good news as attributable to individual effort that will spill over into other areas of one’s life and continue for a lifetime, and sees failures and disappointments as due to bad luck that is limited in time and scope. Pessimism, on the other hand, is the opposite: seeing successes as due to good luck and limited in scope and time, and failures as due to one’s effort and likely to spread to other areas of one’s life for quite some time. Without becoming Pollyannish and always being optimistic about one’s close acquaintances, one can at least give the benefit of the doubt to one’s close acquaintances by being optimistic when circumstances permit. When your friend loses a promotion, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary, try something like: “Your time will come, and hopefully sooner than later! You’ve earned it, but the competition is fierce. Patience—you’ll get there.” For more treatment of this technique, read Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism.
4. Prayer—conscious, positive thoughts for the purpose of improving the lot of others, whether religiously framed or otherwise. In my liberal definition of “prayer,” many of the acts of altruism that I am listing might be considered an act of prayer. In effect, sending a “Get well!” card is just as much of a prayer as “Lord, look over my friend Roberto and help him to a speedy recovery.” Whether on your knees with hands clasped, eyes closed, and words directed towards your god, or sitting at your desk writing a note of encouragement to someone in travail, in my mind you are praying. Prayer is a refusal to ignore one’s needs, and to beg, entreat, request, or ask for those needs to be addressed. From the Latin precari and the Proto Indo-European prek, this long established word for begging is both secular and sacred in its usage.
5. Smiling and Casual Touching—making a conscious effort to be pleasant, as in a genuine smile or an appropriate touch, to someone not necessarily accustomed to such, as a bus driver, sanitation worker, librarian, police officer, and so forth. This is similar to the “non-verbal positive energy” mentioned earlier. However, here I am not talking about sustained focus aimed at being supportive of someone over time, but rather a quick smile or touch (to shoulder, elbow, top of hand, or some other appropriate “hard” and non-threatening spot) to indicate acknowledgement of the other person’s existence and value as a human being. In one study, library patrons who were casually touched (e.g., fingers brushing against one another when handing over a book) by the circulation desk staffer upon checkout rated their library experience significantly more positive than did those patrons who were not casually touched. Just don’t allow the casual touch to linger, as delight can transmogrify into offense.
6. Visualization—repeatedly imagining your partner or other associate framed (as in a picture frame) and exhibiting their most positive aspect. Author Ann Patchett wrote in Prevention (April 2010) of her attendance at a meditation workshop. The leader asked her to hold her hands in front of her and to make a frame, then to visualize her loved one (in this case, husband) in his most positive aspects. For “homework,” she was to repeat this visualization exercise for 11 minutes daily. Over time, she felt a growing appreciation for him, a gratitude for his finer qualities, plus her increasing overt regard for him was met with his increasing self-respect by working out more, helping others more, and feeling better about work.
7. Zaniness—giving the gift of spontaneous positive energy, such as tap dancing briefly or jumping up and kicking one’s feet. I enjoy making a duck-quacking sound around kids, particularly when they are giving their parent/s a hard time. The quacking distracts them, as they giggle and gaze while I ask “Where’s that duck?” A friend has an act he does from time to time whereby he pretends to trip badly, but with quick recovery. Always good for a rapid Oh no! then Ha ha! I have a friend with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Laughing boosts his morale and energy, so every chance I get I try to do a funny around him—a new joke, a bawdy observation…whatever comes to mind.
In my next post for this series on altruism, I will present eight behaviors under the category of “Generous Affection.”