22 Feb Authentic Happiness
by Ben Dean Ph.D.
The 14th strength in Character Strengths and Virtues is the strength of kindness: This strength may also include such concepts as generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, and altruistic love. Here’s an example from my own life.
My best friend from grade school, Anne Biggers, was in a car accident two months ago while driving in West Texas. She was doing the speed limit in a light rain when her car skidded on an oil spot. She spun out of control, sailed across the median, through a lane of traffic and hit a concrete abutment. Her airbag went off and she survived with just bruises.
Before she even had time to get out of the car, three people pulled over to offer help. One person had already called the highway patrol, and another offered her cell phone so that Anne could call for AAA. Another couple (and their children) actually went with her to get her car repaired at a local repair shop and waited with her until her car was fixed because they knew the shop was in a relatively unsafe part of Abilene.
When Anne told me this story, I was touched by the kindness of these strangers. Yet, though the kindnesses they gave her were inspiring, they were not extraordinary. Human beings are kind to one another, and we sometimes help others at great personal cost.
Why do we do this?
When I re-read the chapter on kindness in the Classification of Strengths and Virtues, I was again struck by how hotly debated the answers to this question are. This may be simplistic, but it seems to me that there are basically two groups of researchers and philosophers who are interested in why we are kind to one another: (1) those who believe in altruism and (2) those who do not.
One theoretical tradition (“universal egoism”) suggests that every “kind” act is ultimately done to benefit the self.
A second tradition believes that people are, in fact, able to act with the ultimate goal of benefiting someone else.
Psychologist Daniel Batson and colleagues (2002) offer the following commentary on universal egoism vs. altruism (p. 486):
Those arguing for universal egoism have elegance and parsimony on their side in this debate. It is simpler to explain all human behavior in terms of self-benefit than to postulate a motivational pluralism in which both self-benefit and another’s benefit can serve as ultimate goals. Elegance and parsimony are important criteria in developing scientific explanations, yet they are not the most important criterion. The most important task is to explain adequately and accurately the phenomenon in question.
To read full article, visit Penn, University of Pennsylvania.