Random Acts of Kindness

Before writing about my impressions of this project, I feel as if I have to state that I believe it was not the best way to investigate the impact of altruistic behavior. I enjoyed my experiences committing acts of kindness, both acts of kindness for strangers and acts of kindness for my family. However, because these acts of kindness were motivated by the idea that I was keeping a journal and would need to write a paper about those experiences, I feel as if the experiences were not as genuine as they could have been. Therefore, I wonder whether my reactions to the things I did are the same as the reactions that I would have had if I had done these behaviors without any external impetus. In fact, because the behavior was linked to a grade, I do not think I could characterize anything that I did as altruistic behavior. I am not certain whether this is due to the fact that, in many ways, behavior that benefits society also benefits the individual, or is simply due to the fact that I committed the acts knowing that they were part of a grade. Regardless of the reason, I felt as if I had to mention my concerns prior to giving my impressions of the project.

Helping strangers was, in some ways, more rewarding than helping that I know, because it felt more altruistic to me. The first opportunity I had to help another person occurred when I saw a woman driving around my neighborhood, looking for her dogs that had gotten out of her yard. Normally, in that situation, I would have helped if I had seen the woman's dogs, but I would not have taken on personal responsibility to look for the dogs. However, I took the woman's cell phone number, asked her to let me know if she found them, and told her that I would help her look for them. I spent almost two hours helping the woman search for her dogs. I was ready to stop helping after about thirty minutes of searching, but when I called to see if she had found them, she sounded so despondent that I felt compelled to help her keep looking. Her dogs actually returned to her yard without either of us finding them, and a neighbor texted her to let her know they were in her front yard, so my random act of kindness made no real difference to her. The whole experience made me believe that the empathy-altruism hypothesis has merit, since, as a pet lover, I could empathize with her feelings, which is what made me continue helping her (Kassin et al., 2010).

Moreover, I found that if I could not empathize with the person I was helping, that helping them did not give me the same feeling of being rewarded. I encountered a pair of homeless people who were around my age outside of a large discount store. They had a sign stating that they were homeless and asking for money. I had bottled water and protein bars with me, so I shared those with them. We struck up a conversation, and I discovered that they were not homeless because of unfortunate circumstances, but because they had made decisions that I could not understand. Even though they were very appreciative of what I had shared with them, it made me angry that they had made these choices that resulted in them being homeless and hungry. I wanted to take the water and the protein bars back from them. It made me realize that identifying with someone certainly helps impact how helping feels.

Equally interesting to me was the fact that helping my friends and…