- the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.
- The behavior of an animal that benefits another at its own expense.
We all do it. At some point, we all fall into that familiar, consistent pattern where every day feels exactly the same. Day in, day out. Wake up with the alarm, shower with coffee in hand, drop the kids off, punch the clock, homework, dinner….you get the idea. Life might start to feel a little mundane, perhaps a bit uninspired. In a sea of perceived tediousness, one could get pretty bored and start feeling as if they are not making any real contribution at all.
But is that truly the reality of things?
No. It is most gently and assuredly not.
A tedious routine causes the mind to focus only on its immediate surroundings. Leaving our keen observation skills by the wayside. The grand effect of altruism, meaning the simplest of kind gestures, often go completely unnoticed. Rationally, it is usually because as the ripples of our chosen behaviors expand out across the pond of human interaction, we’re simply not present to see them. We’ve moved on to the next step of our routine.
It is thought, however difficult to measure, that a single act of random kindness at the beginning of any given day will continue to be paid forward and affect the lives of at least 10 individuals before the sun sets. Newton’s first law of motion states that an object will remain at rest or move at a constant speed in a straight line unless it is acted on by an unbalanced force.
Similarly, the inertia and energy of a simple kindness will continue to move from one individual to another until it has encountered one who simply does not possess the fortitude, in that moment, to carry it forward. That’s fancy science-speak for “What goes around, comes around.”
The beauty of this inconspicuous process is that the final person to receive that flow of energy on that particular day will most likely be the one who needed it the most.
Remember that elderly man you let go in front of you in line for the bus this morning? That gentleman smiled warmly at your gesture. He then shared that warmth with his granddaughter’s 2nd-grade class. Telling them a story about bravery, courage and pride in doing the right thing. That’s a common form of altruism. It happens.
A little boy in the front row remembered that story out on the playground where he extended a helping hand and a smile to a disabled little girl who had fallen when a group of distracted children barreled past her. That little girl, when taking a walk with her mother, found a pair of keys below the curb. She then handed them with a smile to the distraught young man who was trying desperately to break into his own car. His pregnant wife had called him from the hospital to say that it was time. That newborn child was greeted with the collaborative smile of people it might never get to meet. Yet what an introduction to life! How marvelous is that?
Without ever realizing it, our simplest acts affect the world in often the most profound ways, making our mundane existences not so mundane after all.
Our reward for being the sources of altruism comes to us from Newton’s third law of motion which states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This statement means that in every interaction, there is a pair of forces acting on the two interacting objects. In this case, that force is kindness. In other words, what goes around comes around.
It is the way of nature. Its how the universe works, whether we like it or not. So, let’s practice a little altruism as often as we can and feel free to expect some in return.
“Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
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