Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther King Jr.’

The Life Effects of Volunteering

January 15, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Jami Zaki in the Health & Science section of the 14 January, 2020 Washington Post. Saki begins by quoting Martin Luther King Jr.”

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

Dr. King also described a mistake that wastes many lives. He called it the drum major instinct, “a desire to be out front to lead the parade, a desire to be first.”

Human children remain helpless for years. They crave attention; without it they would die. Zaki writes,”But instead of subsiding with age, the drum major instinct spreads across our lives. We’ve even elevated it into an ideology, defining success as the ability to beat our enemies and outshine our peers—as though self-obsessed competition will make us thrive.

This notion is both comically and tragically backward. Decades of evidence demonstrate that social connections sustain us. Chronic loneliness increases mortality risk about as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. We flourish not by besting others, but by being part of something greater than ourselves. By clamoring for status, we deprive ourselves of one thing that would actually help us—each other.”

Psychologist Jennifer Crocker and her colleagues asked freshman college students about their social goals. Some cared most about making a good impression: showcasing their strengths and hiding their weaknesses. Although this might appear to be a wise strategy among young adults sizing one another up, it wasn’t.

The more students focused on themselves, the more lonely, depressed and anxious they became, and anxiety, in turn, made students worry even more about their image.

Zaki writes, “Scratching the itch of their drum major instinct, they made it worse.”

The drum major instinct is poison, but there is an antidote. Zaki calls it the drummer’s instinct: an urge not to lead the parade, but to be part of it—in rhythm with others, creating something together that no one could alone. The drum major instinct zooms us in on ourselves, but the drummer’s instinct drives us to care for our bandmates, and it runs deep. HM, being a former drummer who marched in bands with a drum major, really appreciates this analogy. Zaki continues, “young children crave attention, but they also prefer kindness over cruelty, and spontaneously help others in need.”

Crocker measured not just the college students’ desire to stand out but also to be kind. Students who held these “compassionate goals” suffered less depression and loneliness. They received more support from their peers, but that is not what predicted their well-being. Those who helped others were more likely to thrive.

Zaki reports, “Children and adults draw joy from helping others. Doctors who feel compassion for their patients burn out less often. Colleagues who support one another perform more effectively and are more fulfilled at work. And older adults who volunteer live longer and remain healthier than those who don’t.

Given this uncontroversial evidence, why do we still want to be drum majors”? Zaki gives two reasons.

“Individualistic cultures like ours valorize selfish pursuits, and then teach us—wrongly—that whether we like it or not, selfishness is at our core. This turns up the volume on our desire for attention, making the drummer’s instinct harder to hear.”

“”People often help others to help themselves. We give to charity for that rush of “warm glow,” or to confirm our character in moments of doubt. We advertise our virtues by changing our profile picture, or donating just enough to get our names on the opera house wall. These acts are generous on the surface, but hide the drum major instinct underneath.”

There is a healthy memory blog post titled “Trump vs. a Buddhist Monk” that argues that the Buddhist Monk lives a happier and more fulfilling life than Donald Trump. Should you not agree with this title, please read this post.

“Eudaimonic” means conducive to happiness. There will be many future posts on this topic.