In my quest for stories about altruism, I read the book Why Good Things Happen to Good People by Stephen Post, PhD, and Jill Neimark (published 2007). It's a beautiful book, full of stories and research and interesting questionnaires to help your average person develop the ability and the passion for doing good things as a matter of daily action.
I bookmarked a few references because I wanted to post them here. I hope you'll find them beautiful and moving, and maybe even inspiring.
MISTER ROGERS, after the attacks on the World Trade Center, was asked on television what parents should tell their children about the terrorist attacks. He said simply, "Keep your eye on the helpers." This is the message of the Litany of Better Angels. Keep your eye on the helpers.
VICTOR FRANKL, Nazi concentration camp survivor, wrote in Man's Search for Meaning, "Being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself - be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself - by giving to a cause to serve or another person to love - the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself....self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence."
PASTOR CARL WILKENS and his wife went to Rwanda in the 1990s as missionaries, where they helped to rehabilitate health centers that had been destroyed by civil wars. When the mass genocide of 1993 began, Wilkens and his family could have been killed immediately but for the intervention of their Hutu neighbours who risked their lives to speak up for them. The reverend opted to stay when the rest of his family evacuated with the other Americans, and he spent his days delivering water, food and medicine to groups of orphans while the genocide raged around him. This is love. This is courage. Post describes it as moral bravery; the willingness to do what one believes is right and just in spite of social and economic consequences, and even the possibility of death.
THE POWER OF GRATITUDE; a study conducted by Philip Watkins and his colleagues concluded that those participants who scored high on gratitude had significantly lower symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder than those who showed low scores. Primo Levi describes a day of life in the Nazi death camps in his book If This is a Man, "It is lucky that it is not windy today. Strange how, in some way, one always has the impression of being fortunate, how some chance happening, perhaps infinitesimal, stops us crossing the threshold of despair and allows us to live. It is raining, but it is not windy. Or else, it is raining and is also windy: but you know that this evening it is your turn for the supplement of soup." How resilient is the human spirit, and how much weight a simple gratitude can carry.
LOVE IN THE FORM OF LISTENING; Carolyn Schwartz conducted a study with patients suffering from multiple sclerosis. Five MS sufferers over a period of two years volunteered to listen to other MS patients via a phone-in support service. At the end of the two years the helpers had experienced a dramatic change in emotional and psychological well-being, showing marked improvement in self-confidence and self-esteem, and reduced levels of depression.
Keep your eye on the helpers, give what you can, be courageous, be grateful, listen.