Compassion and Altruism

Compassion and Altruism

What is compassion and altruism?

On December 4th, news of what has become one of the largest fires that Southern California has seen broke out. As of the 11th, the Thomas Fire has grown to over 230,000 acres, currently at the 5th largest fire in California history, leaving many people homeless. It is truly one of the most devastating things I've experienced. However, it's in horrific events such as this that we see people come together to help family, friends, neighbors and even strangers in need. The love and support toward those who have lost their homes is truly heartwarming and is one of the best examples of compassion and altruism that I've seen in a while. People showing such concern for those in need, they are willing to go out of their way to provide without expectation of anything in return. It's a beautiful thing to see in the midst of such dark times.

Where does compassion and altruism come from?

In the book Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart by James R. Doty MD, he explores this question along with how we can create more compassion and altruism. Dr. Doty discusses his understanding of compassion and altruism through his own life journey to finding it, practicing it and eventually dedicating his life to researching and teaching it as director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Standford University.

Through Dr. Doty's research, he learned that compassion is an instinct and our brains are actually wired with a desire to help each other.

"There is a part of our brain called the central or periaqueductal grey matter, and its connections to the orbitofrontal cortex are responsible in great part for nurturing behavior. When we see others in pain or suffering, this part of the brain activates, meaning we are wired to nurture and help others when they are in need. Similarly, when we give to others, it lights up the pleasure and reward centers in the brain, even more so when someone gives to us. And when we see someone acting kindly or being helpful, this in turn causes us to act more compassionately.

We are born with a natural desire to help others in need. Then when we do give to others it is registered as a reward by the brain. It makes sense when you think about humanity as being built on the idea of helping to support one another to ensure the survival of human kind. Just because we are wired to be as such doesn't mean that is our reality today. That's pretty clear when you turn on the news on any given day. However, knowing that information gives hope that compassion can be rediscovered in people if lost. It gives hope for a better future. A future where people realize we are all here together and are more similar than different.

How do we harness compassion and altruism?

Many people in society today are mind driven because they are not in touch with themselves or what really matters in life. Meaning they know WHAT THEY WANT and will do what it takes to get that, but these are often materialistic or surface level desires. Those who don't slow down and listen to WHAT THE HEART WANTS, will most likely get stuck in a mind driven cycle of life. The mind doesn't get us very far in terms of meaningful connections to others, the heart on the other hand plays a very different role.

"The mind wants to divide us and keep us separate. It will teach us to compare ourselves, to differentiate ourselves, to get what's ours because there is only so much to go around."

"The heart wants to connect us and wants to share. It wants to show us that there are no differences and that ultimately we are all the same."

This is why the heart plays such a crucial role in living a meaningful life, however, you must open your heart to ensure that you are leading with it. This is no easy task and in fact it's quite a process that begins with yourself. You've heard people say that before you can truly love someone, you need to be able to love yourself. Similarly, Dr. Doty explains that before you can truly give outwardly, you need to travel inward and be at peace with yourself. That means coming to terms with struggles you've had in your life and accepting them as a part of your story in a positive way. Once you've opened your heart to yourself, then the journey begins outward, opening your heart to others and connecting on a deeper level.

How do we create more compassion and altruism?

The brain's independent role as far as harnessing compassion is important, as is the heart's role. However, the true magic happens when their is a connection between the two.

"When our brains and our hearts are working in collaboration -- we are happier, we are healthier, and we automatically express love, kindness, and care for one another."

Showing more compassion and altruism doesn't have to be in the form of huge grand gestures either. The important thing is that the action is there. With enough people taking those small actions, together we can create big change.

"One act of compassion leads to another act of compassion, and so on across the globe."



"Giving love is always possible. Every smile at a stranger can be a gift. Every moment of non-judgement of another human being is a gift. Every moment of forgiveness, for yourself or for someone else, is a gift. Every act of compassion, every intention to serve, is a gift to this world and a gift to yourself."

The mission of the author, Dr. James Doty, and his book has inspired my focus for our Get Loud Advocates Program. I want to use the magic that is brain and heart collaboration to help create more compassion and altruism around kidney disease while empowering people all over the world to Get Loud and take action. Together we can make a difference.

"The only way to truly change and transform your life for the better is by transforming and changing the lives of others."

** Blog post cover image from The Awkward Yeti