This is the fifth, and last, in a series of five blogs that focus on 33 different ways of being altruistic. The previous four dealt with Six Kinds of Thoughtful Communication, Seven Kinds of Positive Regard, Eight Kinds of Generous Affection, and Five Kinds of Helpful Giving. These different forms of altruism comprise much of the chapter by the same name in my upcoming book on happiness. All 33 forms of altruism are named in the first blog. Research has identified sustained altruistic activity over time as being associated with a sense of well-being. Enjoy, and let me know if you think of more!
The Seven Ways to Provide Beneficial Relief:
Connecting People—for their mutual benefit, as when a friend needs a job and another friend may have a job opening. Many of us are so busy that the very notion of taking time to introduce two people who can be of benefit to one another is painful. We just don’t have time. When, however, we take a deep breath and say to ourselves that we need to make the time to let jobless Mary know about our friend Caryn who is hiring people with Mary’s qualifications, then we are altruistically connecting people.
Good Samaritan—stopping to help someone in need of assistance, as in taking a hurt bird to a nature museum or calling an ambulance for someone in distress. My son-in-law recently told me that he and our grandsons were driving to an appointment with no time to spare when they spied a hawk that had been apparently hit by a car and was futilely trying to fly. He circled the block with the intention of picking up the stricken bird and taking it to a nearby nature museum for care. By the time he returned to the scene of the accident, the bird was already being assisted by someone who’d beat him to it! Good Samaritanism is alive and well.
Neighborliness—as in offering to do a chore (taking the trash out, mowing the grass, collecting newspapers) for a neighbor who is ill, infirm, out of town, or otherwise not able to stay on top of things around the domicile. My sister Virginia lived alone in her 90s in the Mt. Lebanon neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Unable to keep her walkway and driveway clear of snow, neighbors filled in without being asked, and continued doing so until she moved into a retirement home several years later. In the same neighborhood, when she decided to learn to use a computer at age 92, a teenage boy who had heard of her daring venture decided to drop in one or two afternoons a week and help her learn the ins and outs of email, printing, and the like.
Service—participating in a project that primarily benefits others rather than self, as in helping to paint a group home or to build a Habitat for Humanity house. I once joined four other guys in building a harpsichord (from a kit) for our choirmaster. That was not true service, as I/we were the beneficiaries of the new harpsichord, as we could then make music together with the new instrument. Some years before that, I joined a dozen other folks in my Charlotte Civitan Club to paint, inside and outside, a group home at a sheltered workshop that housed a dozen individuals with Down’s syndrome. I hate to paint. I did not know the residents then. I do not know them now. That was an act of service. It needed to be done, so do it we did.
Random Acts of Kindness—spontaneously engaging in an act towards someone else that could be described as “kind,” as in the proverbial helping a fragile elderly person across the street. Many are the ways of being kind: taking off one’s coat for a shivering friend to wear, letting a child have something of yours that they have been admiring, offering to carry or help carry a heavy object whose bearer is evidently uncomfortable with, offering a pitcher of ice water to someone working in your yard. The dictionary definition of kindness is an act that is thoughtful, considerate, tender, or generous. The word “kind” from the Old English word for “kin,” which suggests that kindness is treating others like family.
Respite Care—offering to relieve (as in babysitting, sitting with demented elder) a caregiver so that they may have some personal time (to shop, go to a movie, etc.). The Senior Care Network (see more at www.seniorcarenetwork.com ) is an organization that, among other things, enlists volunteers to relieve caregivers. Let us say that you are caring for a parent with severe dementia. You accept this role willingly, but you nonetheless need relief in order to shop for groceries, run errands, and even go to a movie now and then. Senior Care Network is organized to send someone to relieve you for several hours in order for your parent to have uninterrupted care but for you to be able to take care of needs that must be addressed outside the home. This is an institutional response to a need that is everywhere. We do not have to be registered with SCN in order to provide respite care to a friend or even acquaintance who is providing care 7/24 and who needs relief from time to time. All we have to do is offer to help.
Volunteering—in hospitals, schools, and so forth. Most volunteering is straightforward: You go to your neighborhood elementary school and offer to read to young children or otherwise be a teacher’s helper, go to your hospital of choice and be a regular visitor, or contact your favorite politician to let them know you’re available to help with anything from envelope stuffing to research for position papers. However, volunteering in the U.S. has become quite a production. With the coming of age of the Internet, linking your interests and skills with needs in the community has become relatively painless. For example, go to www.volunteermatch.org . Enter your zip code, then enter a keyword that describes the activity you would like to volunteer to perform. I just went to the Volunteer Match website and typed in my zip code and the term “tutoring.” The site then identified 17 organizations that could use my services. What a powerful way for the Internet to link us as individuals to others who need our talents and time. And, there are even more online sites where you can find satisfying opportunities for volunteer work.