Awaken the good Samaritan in you

Ever thought of why we help others? Why we don't help and why we should help?

Kids helping each otherEver thought that watching Barney and Friends and Bob the Builder could turn your preschooler into a socially responsible human being? Well, if you didn’t, then it’s time you did a reality check and thought twice before switching off the idiot box to send your child out to play. Studies reveal that children who are exposed to pro-social models actually engage in such behaviour in real life.

Many times, we find ourselves in a situation when people need us and a simple act of helpfulness on our behalf can go on to save their lives. But despite that knowledge, we refrain from being good Samaritans all the time.

What drives us to help others?

Empathy. This is a very important factor that impels people to help those in need. Anamika, working in a leading telecom company, mentions how she contributed a major chunk of her monetary benefits to a class-four employee in her office for the treatment of his daughter, who was suffering from cancer. “My own brother succumbed to the disease recently. I cannot bear to see anyone else surrender to it, certainly not because of lack of treatment,” she says.

Inherent morality. A number of people help others because they feel morally responsible. Rachna, 35, a housewife, says she owes it to her parents for giving her such values. “I always go out of my way to help an individual in need because that’s the way I’ve been brought up.”

Some people also do it for fear of the Almighty. Anushree saved a little girl from drowning because she felt that’s what god wanted her to do.

Social responsibility. Many people are kind because they experience a sense of responsibility towards others. Narinder Sharma, an army officer says, “There are times when a person is faced with an emergency and others stand and watch as mute spectators, unwilling to help. I ensure that I never fail to reach out in such situations.”

Personal happiness. Reaching out to help can induce a great deal of joy in the benefactor as doing good always leads to feeling good. It helps improve your mood, and perks you up.” Psychologists have rightly named this feeling “The helpers high”.

Good mood. Pro-social behaviour leads to good mood and vice-versa. Psychologists have proved that people who are in a pleasant mood tend to construe events in a sympathetic way and also behave in consonance with their values and beliefs.

What holds us back?

Pre-occupation with self. There may be times when you may pass by a person in need because you have other important things on your mind.

Diffusion of responsibility. Psychologists say that whenever there is a crowd of bystanders, there is always reluctance to offer help. Each of them mentally excuses himself/herself from the responsibility thinking someone else will respond.

Incapacity to deal with the problem. Sometimes, people wish to help but cannot as they are not deft to deal with the problem.

Lack of trust. This is a major reason why people hesitate to help. Mark, 30, says, “I once tried to show the way to a lady riding a swank bike, frantically looking for a particular gymnasium. I got a rude shock when she came up with the choicest abuses for me pointing out how I wanted to misguide her and take advantage of her. So much for being helpful!” With the way things are in our society, it isn’t difficult to imagine why girls choose not to trust men these days.

Fear of incompetence. It is often observed that people do not like to receive help from their friends and siblings as it hurts them to accept their peers having an edge over them. Several parents also find it difficult to learn new things from their children as it lowers their self-esteem. Accepting monetary help from children can also be painful for parents.

An interesting example came up in Ritu’s case. “I don’t like it when my mom-in-law tries to modify my cooking as it makes me feel as if I am an incompetent cook.” Sure enough, a lot of mothers-in-law must be thinking the same when their daughters-in-law try to make changes in the kitchen.

Fear of misinterpreting the situation. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Many times people abstain from helping because the situation appears ambiguous to them. A man running with a bag may only be in a hurry to catch a bus instead of a thief running off with someone else’s possession. With perplexity taking the better of them, people thwart all ideas of helping and prefer to follow the path of least resistance.

Doesn’t take much to be pro-social

  • Be aware. In our daily lives, we ignore or neglect a lot of events taking place around us for our own benefit. But it isn’t a bad idea to stop and notice your surroundings sometimes. It may lead you to help someone in an emergency.
  • Assume responsibility. Remember, when help is required, all bystanders are equally responsible. So, instead of waiting for others to react, go forward and act! I remember an instance when there was no electricity in our block. Everybody sat complacently thinking it was just a matter of time when power would be restored as someone would definitely make a complaint. As it turned out, there was no power even after an hour. I decided to act only to find that people who had to rectify the problem were not even aware of it!
  • Take a chance. If you are in a dilemma whether or not help is required, it is always better to do it than to pull back. A moment’s embarrassment is better than bearing the guilt of not being able to help someone in time.
  • Be supportive. It is true that people do not always like being helped. If the help that you give threatens their self-esteem, then they had rather suffer than be helped. Be careful to advance help that is supportive and shows concern for the beneficiary, aiming at his/her wellbeing.

Don’t forget the helper’s high. Helping alleviates personal stress, escalates self-worth and wins social approval. Besides this, there is always that extra chance of someone else helping you in return!

Priti Salian
Priti Salian is a teacher by profession and a writer by choice. Her interests include yoga, health, parenting and social awareness. She lives in New Delhi.


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