Monday, October 17, 2011

Pay It Forward

This author had the honor and pleasure of providing a traditional turkey dinner for a large group of homeless people at a local religious facility. Although done primarily to accomplish the assignment herein, she found pleasure and a sense of goodness from this act of volunteerism. Because she did not do the action altruistically (she had reason and expectation), perhaps the deed can be called student responsibility. In other circumstances, her behavior may be called social responsibility. Regardless of its name, the deed provided the doer with good feelings and instilled in her the desire to give again in some way.

Altruism, Personal and Professional Social Responsibility, and Codependency

Pure altruism is giving without expectation of compensation or return of any kind (Trivers, 1971). Unlike altruism, which is an authentic and selfless concern for others, personal and professional social responsibility is acting in a way that benefits society at large. Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition wherein individuals with low self-esteem try to find meaning and happiness in things outside of themselves. Altruistic deeds are rare, if they exist at all (Trivers, 1971), and social responsibility is common, although not always done with authentic care. Codependent actions take place only because the giver needs the reciprocal relationship with the receiver, and usually vice versa. This author's actions for this assignment were done out of personal (and student-related) social responsibility.

Applying Altruism to Psychology or Psychological Principles
In psychology, practicing professionals are not necessarily altruistic, although must aim to support the best interest of their clients. Psychological principles were created to encourage and support a better quality of life and to help individuals thrive. Designed specifically to assist and allay human difficulty and alleviate suffering, not for profit, personal agenda, or political purpose. Altruistic behavior is in alignment with the essence of psychological principles.

Altruism as it Improves the Human Condition

This author experienced a sense of goodness in feeding individuals at the homeless shelter as well as providing a meal for more than 50 people. The nature of altruistic behavior is that it provides benefit for both sides of the transfer, and may promote a pay-it-forward syndrome whereby those who have been helped will be inspired to help others (Berkowitz & Daniels, 1964). Those taught will inspire others to learn, those who benefit may later support a philanthropic cause. The excessive need of humankind could be partially filled with the products of altruistic behavior or social responsibility.

Personal and Professional Responsibilities Related to Altruism

This author believes it is the responsibility of capable persons to emulate altruistic behavior when necessary and appropriate and to the best of one's ability, although she does not believe most individuals are capable of altruistic behavior. Psychological professionals' primary regard must be for their patient or client, and their needs must be placed above self needs. To fill somewhat of an altruistic role, many professionals provide pro-bono services to the underprivileged, underserved, and underrepresented populations as well as maintaining exceedingly high standards of practice (Plante, 2011).

The Future of Psychology in Contemporary Society
The future of psychology depends on its professionals to act according to altruistic ideas and to aim to serve others authentically before attending to personal agendas. The human race is in dire need of strong, responsible, directive individuals whose goal is to change the course of human life. Although not everyone is capable of altruistic behavior, personal and professional responsibility will eventually alter the human condition. The future relies on the altruistic behavior and social responsibility of capable individuals, including psychological professionals.


According to American legend, one rainy day, Abraham Lincoln left his carriage to save a pig who had gotten itself stuck in the mud. When praised for his selfless action, he simply replied that it was not selfless; had he not saved the pig, he would have felt terrible and it would have ruined his day. Social responsibility, in most cases, provides as good an outcome as altruism, and perhaps may eventually inspire altruism.


Berkowitz, L., & Daniels, L. R. (1964). Affecting the salience of the social responsibility norm: effects of past help on the response to dependency relationships. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 68(3), 275-281. doi: 10.1037/h0040164

Plante, T. G. (2011). Contemporary clinical psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Trivers, R. L. (1971). The evolution of reciprocal altruism. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 46(1), 35. doi: 10.1086/406755

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