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Friday, August 14, 2015

Neighbors Lacking Respect -- The Need for Altruistic Obligations

Empty properties left to decompose from neglect. Dogs in neighboring yards barking all day long. Grass left uncut and untrimmed. Trash containers left on the street and never retrieved. Paper, cans, and cigarette butts littering yards and sidewalks. Cats fighting, mating, and scavenging in private spaces. Thick, dark smoke from unattended fire pits wafting in the morning air. Loud, booming car stereos in the late night hours.

Living in Portsmouth on a street where houses are extremely close and yards are small seems to be getting worse in one general respect -- the growing lack of simple consideration of common manners.

I'm not talking about neighborliness and people being friendly to each other. People here are nice and congenial. Although I have lived both in the county and in town, and I believe neighbors in town generally do not have as much contact as those in the county largely since distances between dwellings are small in town, and people tend to respect each other's privacy.

To me, people now tend to do things (or not do things) simply because they have the right, and this often entails a lack of empathy for others in the neighborhood who are often negatively affected.

Fewer and fewer neighbors seem to care about altruism. Altruism, or selflessness, is the opposite of selfishness. The word was coined by the French philosopher Auguste Comte in French, as altruisme, for an antonym of egoism. The term altruism refers to an ethical doctrine that claims that individuals are morally obliged to benefit others.

Signs are plentiful that society is becoming less concerned about being cooperative. Just consider the often gridlocked, partisan U.S. Congress. Yet, the fact remains that cooperative people are more cooperative if it is more likely that individuals will interact again in the future. People tend to be less cooperative if they perceive that the frequency of helpers in the population is lower. They tend to help less if they see non-cooperativeness by others and this effect tends to be stronger than the opposite effect of seeing cooperative behaviors.

(Pat Barcaly. "The evolution of charitable behaviour and the power of reputation." In Roberts, S. Craig, ed. Applied Evolutionary Psychology. 2011.)

So, neighbors who don't see their other neighbors working cooperatively begin to care less about respecting those on their streets. Surely, this contributes to a lack of altruism in a time when individuals care so much about their own pleasurable pursuits that they don't have the inclination or the time to help others. People want "what they want" now while lacking a sense of community.

Many people seem to be stubbornly dedicated to a life of selfish independence these days; they simply dare other people to perceive they hold any responsibility for an intrusion. Without care for neighbors, they can be heard saying ...

"I'll get a pit bull if I want."
"I'll do as I like on my own property."
"I'll make noise with my well-earned toys."
"I'll party until 3 A.M."
"What business is it of yours?" 

Rutgers University anthropologist Robert Trivers came up with the term "reciprocal altruism" to describe showing generosity to others at a cost to yourself, in hopes that they'll repay you in kind in the future.

Absolute altruism is giving with no expectation of getting anything in return. But as Trivers points out, there's likely no such thing as pure altruism. If you're sacrificing for somebody related to you, it benefits your genetic line, and if you're sacrificing for somebody unrelated, you get a bump in reputation if others see what you're doing, and probably a bump in self-respect if they don't. It's what people commonly consider the "tit for tat" philosophy.

Since consideration is lacking, perhaps neighbors should embrace the idea of reciprocal altruism. The inconsiderate with highly egotistical motives might buy into more gaining self-respect. There's a growing body of research suggesting that doing kind acts for others gives a person a "helper's high" and makes him feel happier and more satisfied with his own life.

Dr. Christine Carter, sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, says a "helper's high" even makes people feel stronger and more energetic after helping others; many also reported feeling calmer and less depressed, with increased feelings of self-worth. She explains the high of helping ...

"Did you know that kinder people actually live longer, healthier lives? People who volunteer tend to experience fewer aches and pains. Giving help to others protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease. People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44 percent lower likelihood of dying—and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status, and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church; it means that volunteering is nearly as beneficial to our health as quitting smoking!"

(Christine Carter. "What We Get When We Give." Psychology Today. February 18, 2010.)

It's really not that difficult to be kind and use some common sense that benefits others. What easier way to be kind than to be considerate of your neighbors? Yes, you have your rights and your liberty to live happily with your own individual differences; however, to improve cooperation among neighbors, you also have the obligation to be mannerly in respect of everyone else.

While rights refer to what you gain, obligations refer to what you should do. Obligations are your responsibilities as citizens or individuals of the society. If you are more focused on obtaining your rights but are indifferent to your obligations, it creates a negative ambiance. Hence, people should realize that just as they enjoy their rights, they also have to fulfill their obligations towards others.

Obligations are mostly for others. Obligations derive from sacred ethical and moral codes that are universal to humanity. We all should remind ourselves that our Judeo-Christian heritage speaks only of obligations, not rights. The Bible mentions not a single right; however, it does speak of several
hundred obligations, both explicit and implied.

All of the people on this Earth are our neighbors, yet proximity demands we should show extra respect for those who live on our streets. 

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is none other commandment greater than these."

--Mark 12:31

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