Daily Riches: How We Learn Altruism (Robert Lawrence Smith)

“Like turning the other cheek, helping the stranger is a fundamentally counterintuitive act. We …are basically a self-interested species. Our instinct is to husband our resources and share them only with close family and friends – people we know well and love and who are likely to reciprocate when we ourselves are in need. Why, after all, should we care about strangers? My belief is that altruism is actually a deep-seated human instinct … a mysterious drive to express the best that is in us. When we listen for and hear the cries of the needy, the oppressed, or the sick, something inside us instinctively responds. …But we are also driven by a countervailing instinct: the fear of the unknown, of people whose cultures and values we don’t understand. This tug-of-war between our fear of strangers and our need to connect with those outside our own experience is the dynamic force that draws men and women to each other, and drives them apart. It’s what moves us to travel to foreign lands and meet foreign people, and what compels to erect Berlin Walls and adopt restrictive immigration policies. Service to others is the way we break down the walls that keep us isolated in our own lives and in our own communities. It’s how we grow as human beings. …you learn about life through interactions with others who are different from yourself, not by looking inward. Doing physical labor side by side with total strangers who needed help taught me lessons that went far beyond anything I had learned in a classroom or in [Quaker] Meeting about the commonality that transcends differences, about the kinship engendered by shared labor. I benefited as much by my efforts as the family I was trying to help. I learned that not only are we our brother’s keepers, our brother is our keeper too – the keeper of our soul.” Robert Lawrence Smith

“And Cain said … ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’”
Genesis  4:9

 Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Have you hoped to learn altruism from books or church?
  • Are you involved in helping people in need who are not your family or friends?
  • Have you experienced being helped by those you were helping?
  • Do you think of yourself as “your brother’s keeper?”

Abba, help me to see and care for my brother who is not my brother.

For More: A Quaker Book of Wisdom by Robert Lawrence Smith


These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek after God and he seeks after you. I hope you’ll follow and share my blog. My goal is to share something of unique value with you daily. I appreciate your interest!  –  Bill (Psalm 90:14)

“I practice daily what I believe; everything else is religious talk.”

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