Monday, October 31, 2011

Friendly Friday

When Allison at O My Family started Friendly Friday a few weeks ago, I thought it was a great idea. Let’s actively seek out persons to help and, of course, blog about it. But who would I help, I thought? I don’t interact with that many persons on a daily basis. I see my students and the persons in my lab. That’s it. And just like that, I had lost my desire to help.

I read her posts each week and thought, hmm, I guess I could do that. But then, I don’t talk to my neighbours so baking them something would be a bit strange. I don’t know what the postman looks like either. My car is dead so there’s no giving old ladies rides to the bus stop. I had, once again, given up on helping. Besides, I didn’t want to help just so that I could link up in a Friendly Friday post. I wanted to help just to help.

For class this week we were scheduled to talk about prosocial behavior. I cringed. I would be prepping a lecture on helping. I’d be reading all the psychological reasons why we don’t help and pretty much nodding in agreement.

Another Friday passed and I had no Friendly Friday post. I hadn’t helped a soul. Sure, I had made copies for my students. Sure, I had critiqued a paper for a friend but that just wasn’t the same. I headed to the supermarket to get my Friday night movie. As I walked out the supermarket, it started to rain heavily. A lady, her baby, her older daughter and husband stood next to me watching the rain.

The husband decided that he’d brave the downpour and go get the car. After all, it did not seem like the rain would end anytime soon. We could be standing there forever. This is your chance, Kelster. Offer your umbrella for the trip to the car. I froze. I decided to wait. If the husband didn’t come back with an umbrella, I’d offer my umbrella so that she could cover the baby. Finally! I could link up in Friendly Friday.

Uh. What? Was I only doing this so that I could link up in Friendly Friday? No, no, of course not. FF had certainly giving me the extra motivation but even without FF, I would have offered to help this family. I knew this was true but there was the nagging doubt in my head.

The husband drove the car as close as he could and I quickly offered to shelter them on their walk to the car. The wife thanked me profusely. The husband, however, was not as friendly. He walked up to us, picked up his daughter and said, “It’s not raining that badly anymore.” I shrugged. I didn’t care how lightly it was raining at that point; I was not going to have a drop of rain fall on that precious sleeping baby if I could help it.
After they left, I started thinking. Does it matter why we help? Should it only matter that we helped? Three theories of helping exist. One, the empathic-altruism hypothesis, states that we help simply for helping’s sake. The negative state relief hypothesis states that we do it because we feel bad when someone is in distress and helping relieves this. The empathic-joy hypothesis says that we help so that we can feel good. The latter two seem to be more about the helper than the helpee. But again, should it matter why we help? I will address that another time. For now, I am just glad that I did.

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