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Value of helping others

Huzaima Bukhari

“Our prime purpose in life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them”Dalai Lama

The fact that great writers, philosophers and preachers belonging to any region and any brand of faith (Godly or man-made) say the same thing should not come as a surprise because humanity, truth, love and kindness are the very strong bases of all positively charged thinkers. So, for example, according to a popular Chinese belief, “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a life time, help somebody.”

Similarly, Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy understood that the sole meaning of life was in serving humanity. Winston Churchill is quoted as saying: “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

“Making money is happiness; making other people happy is a super happiness,” and “Giving back is as good for you as it is for those you are helping, because giving gives you purpose. When you have a purpose-driven life, you are a happier person.”

The above two quotes are attributed to respectively two persons, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Muhammad Yunus who introduced micro-financing in Bangladesh, and a popular Hollywood film actress, Goldie Hawn, both illustrious personalities hailing from extremely diverse backgrounds through their experiences in life seem to have arrived at the same conclusion—helping others to attain one’s own sense of bliss. In today’s world where people are day by day getting hooked onto anti-depressants, sedatives, medicines for hypertension and insomnia, blood pressure and what not, there is a dire need to resort to measures that can educate and encourage people to help others, both monetarily and emotionally.

One wonders what inspires people to act selflessly in helping others and making big or small personal sacrifices, whether by way of money or time. Psychologists have termed such acts as “pro-social behavior”. Tremendous research has been conducted in this field and various deductions made as to who helps whom and under what circumstances but one cannot deny that there is something inherent in living beings in general and human beings in particular, that propels them to assist those in difficulty. After all, how do they sense that someone is in need of genuine help and is not a source of threat? There are many instances where animals, wild or tame, have been known to rescue other animals as well as people. The world of web is full of stories where animals have rescued human beings in extremely critical situations.

An interesting episode that occurred in Ethiopia in June 2005 highlights the incredible instincts of nature. A 12 years old girl, while on her way home from school was kidnapped by four men in rural south-west area of the country to be sold into a forced marriage. During her week in captivity she was severely beaten by her tormentors who, while moving her to another place because the police were in pursuit, were chased away by three lions. These creatures of the wild stayed with the terrified girl without hurting her until she was recovered by the authorities. Sergeant Wedaj, a police official said, “They (lions) stood guard until we found her and then they just left her like a gift and went back into the forest.” An Ethiopian wildlife expert opined that perhaps the girl’s cries sounded like the mewing of a cub that is why the lions spared her. Whatever may have been the reasons but what amazes is the animals’ ability to distinguish between one in need of help and the evil that needs to be eradicated. If an animal can perceive so accurately, one can imagine the capability of a human brain in which altruism is already hard-wired.

Of course, the infinite good deeds that humans have done and are still doing for other humans cannot be all put to the pen. The only thing that is of concern here is the element of mischief whereby a deliberate attempt is made to cause misery to others. There are many sadistic people who would love to have a helping hand themselves but when it comes to performing the same function, they prefer to become cruel and vicious. Psychologists name this attribute as a form of mental disorder. This means that a healthy human being is bound to extend his assistance whenever such an occasion demands whereas the unhealthy ones would be prone to harm others. Cases of murderers, kidnappers, rapists, pedophiles, cheats, liars, destroyers etc. are actually related to a mind that is infested with germs of disorder that require treatment remedies. A conclusion could be drawn that those who do not help may not be unhealthy but the ones who hurt are definitely so. Anyways, it is a complicated world and nothing can be averred with authenticity. 

The main idea is that there are times when doing good to someone else invokes a positive feeling, the main trigger behind generosity in humans. The sensational flush of joy which enthralls one while receiving a grateful smile or words of prayer for a kind act, is absolutely priceless. Psychologists say that one reason for positive emotional state as a result of pro-social behavior is reinforcement of our sense of relatedness to others. From a physical aspect there is now neural evidence from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) suggesting a link between generosity and happiness which means that a good deed activates the same (mesolimbic) regions of the brain that responds to monetary awards, food or sex. The study, ‘Feeling Good about Giving: The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior’ by Harvard Business School, goes on to reveal that mere intent and commitment to generosity can stimulate change and make people happier. It also helps in ameliorating the state of depression that improves one’s emotional well-being.

There is no necessity of providing monetary help to satisfy our souls. A supportive attitude, a keen ear, words of encouragement, a good advice, shock-absorbing an emotional vent, are some of the ways by which one can be pro-social. Thus group therapies have proved beneficial in easing out emotional distress suffered by victims of abuse, addiction or even convicts trying to make peace with their lives. Different studies prove that helping others to regulate their emotions predicted better emotional and cognitive outcomes for those participants who gave help, thanks to the use of reappraisal of their own situation, implying that in trying to understand other people’s perspective, there is an unconscious increase in reassessing one’s own life leading to better psychological outcomes.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)

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