When someone does you a good deed, you must never forget it. You must look out for the opportunity to do a good deed to that person. If you do not get that opportunity then you must pass on the good deed to someone else. It is quite a strange fact of life, that a good deed done to another always bring some kind of reward to the person who has done the good deed. Hence you must always return good with good.
People go throughout their day encountering random acts of kindness in many various ways. Whether it is simply acknowledging someone who walks right past you by saying hello and smiling, or just holding the door open for someone entering behind you, kindness is everywhere. However, there are also certain people who do not openly express their kindness to others. For example, take the driver who suddenly and abruptly cuts you off when changing lanes; even though you would like to tailgate him all the way to his house to make him angry, “one good turn, deserves another.” Let the driver go, and carry on with your day. In return, the driver may feel sorry for his or her actions and perhaps one day, when you extremely need to craft a massive 5 lane change manoeuvre, someone will let you go.
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him has always preached the philosophy “Always be kind to others” to his Ummah. Once he said, “He who is deprived of kindness is deprived of goodness.” Even if others may not behave in a benevolent manner towards you, always respond with kindness.
A favour in return for a favour
That is what any man will do
A favour in return for an evil
That is what a manly man will do
Sometimes, people may be astonished by your response and feel obliged to do the same to others. In addition to it, a touch of satisfaction lies in performing good to others.
I won’t presume to say whether or not readers were acting altruistically — only you know why you took the time to write — but you provided plenty of ideas in response to last week’s column and post about an experiment scanning the brains of people as their money went to charity. The two lead authors of the Science paper about the experiment, Ulrich Mayr and William Harbaugh of the University of Oregon, reviewed your comments and wrote a response:
We are intrigued by the many thoughtful comments on John’s column about our paper. We’ll try to address a few of the comments and themes.
Maybe the largest category of blog entries comment on some aspect that a perfect study would have considered. Studies that settle an issue once and for all are rare, and it is certainly impossible to address all of the important additional aspects mentioned by readers within a 2000-word article in Science. Psychological and economic experiments try to reduce a complicated situation to its bare essentials. In practice, this means that a single experiment leaves out a lot of interesting situations, and this is even more true with fMRI. Brain activation – or at least the signal that we get from the fMRI – is amazingly noisy, and we need a lot of repetition to get even simple results.
People raise very interesting questions about whether the results would vary with different public goods, with the fairness of the taxation, men vs. women, children vs. adults, amount of pain, religious beliefs, the givers’ financial status, motherly love, social context, self-discipline, fear of guilt versus anticipation of pleasure etc. We are fascinated to see what particular questions people think are interesting, and we plan to follow up on at least some of these questions – we only wish you readers were a random sample from the population!
Here are two such issues that we personally find particularly interesting.
A number of entries (e.g., John and Scott ) talked about the fact that people give because they might feel guilt otherwise. In learning theory and motivational psychology, there is an old distinction between being motivated by anticipation of a positive event, or by the desire to avoid a negative event (such as the experience of guilt). There is some evidence that these two motives rely on different neural systems and that people may differ by whether they respond more to anticipated reward or fear of punishment – whether that comes from others, or internally, from guilt. Looking at this in the context of altruism would be interesting and we think brain imaging would add a lot.
Also, a few entries have touched upon the question of “educating” people to give and to cooperate. (e.g., Vickie Pynchon and evildoer ). This is one aspect where information about the neural systems involved in motivating altruistic behavior can be particularly important. For example, many psychologists believe that the main evolutionary purpose of the “pleasure areas” that we tracked in our experiment is reinforcement learning. Actions that activate the pleasure areas are more likely to be repeated in the future. Now that we now know that these same areas are involved during altruistic behavior, it’s possible that we can next figure out if “teaching altruism” is like teaching other rewarding behaviors.
Finally, some readers asked if it matters what the motives for altruism are—after all, what counts is the consequence (e.g., Bobbi, Charles Silver, Chris and James Alday). We sort of agree – motives may not matter for the recipient, after all. But they matter a lot for other reasons. If people are pure altruists, they should welcome taxation for the public good (but not taxes that are wasteful, or which pay for things the disagree with!) But if people are warm-glow givers, or if they give out of a sense of obligation, or because the think if they don’t give people will think the are greed, or cheap, or if they want to control how their money is spent – then higher taxes are a different story.
Knowing about the motives is also important for those interested in getting people to donate (e.g., professional fundraisers) or those interested in raising citizens with a concern for the greater good. Is it better–as some entries have suggested–to emphasize empathy or abstract principles about good citizenship, the guilt factor or anticipation of “altruistic pleasure”, or are different approaches required for different people? Of course, we are not anywhere close to answering these questions. But we believe these are questions worth asking and the answers should come from a better understanding of what exactly motivates people to see beyond themselves.
Any more thoughts on those questions? Feel free to answer no matter what your motivation.