What we view in the news in today's society is a world of unrest and violence. We are all aware of the severe implications of war, including the vast amount of money poured into funding it, the numerous troops that are deployed and, most importantly, the impact it has on many individuals. War has displaced many people into a ‘refugee’ status, giving them a negative stigma, perhaps exemplified by one of the Brexit campaign points, to tighten control over borders to limit refugees from entering. You may think: how does this affect you?
In a world of 7.5 billion people, there are those who are easily forgotten by society. How aware are you of the level conflict in the world? Can you imagine yourself in the shoes of those who go to sleep at night, kept awake by the constant fear of impending danger, caught between two sides in war? Perhaps not! We are lucky to be living in a more stable society in which we have access to basic human rights.
Altruism, the act of selflessness for the wellbeing of others, can help to change the world, one little step at a time. There are many ways to get involved in making a positive difference. On a personal level, this could be helping your parents with household chores, or helping your siblings with their homework. In the context of the local community, this could include volunteering at a local charity shop, because you never know how significant a simple event can be to help improve someone’s day.
Now comes the idea of pushing it forward on an international level. Organisations such as the Link to Hope Shoebox Charity collects shoeboxes each year filled with items that families and the elderly need. These shoeboxes are sent to Eastern Europe, where people lack the access to these resources. One of the countries is Ukraine, with an estimated number of 1.1 million Ukrainian refugees and migrants. As the war drags on, the hope of civilians dwindles, as simple things such as toiletries are difficult to buy due to rising prices, and living conditions worsen, as many lost their homes to bombings. As a community, our distribution of these gifts are warmly received and appreciated. Though arguably, the message conveyed behind them that we care is the most important part of the process. So maybe next time you will be able to take a small amount time out of your day to give something back to those in need.
A great way to get involved is through Amnesty International. Supported within the school community, Amnesty advocates human rights and fights for long-standing issues, such as abolishing the death penalty, and current issues such as challenging President Trump’s administration after his questionable campaign promises. They have recently had success with their campaign for Chelsea Manning, a whistle-blower who exposed classified US materials. Following Amnesty's work, he is due to be freed from custody on the 17th of May. This clearly shows how the actions of individuals can accumulate and make big changes.
Although altruism is defined as selflessness, there are many physiological reasons to why helping others can also benefit you. Studies have found that it provides greater activity in the left and right ventral striatum, which is responsible for ‘rewarding’ behaviour - good feelings. Piliavin suggested the arousal-cost reward model, where unpleasant feelings due to observing others in distress were seen to disappear after engaging in altruism. Altruism is a win-win situation, so act on it!
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