|Path Home: Empathy, Altruism and Agape | Presenters or Itinerary
This paper has a twofold purpose: (1) to report results of our long-term study of rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust; and (2) to discuss our current expanded research on heroic and conventional altruism. Guided by the steering committee's suggestion that this conference address specific questions, I have chosen for this purpose to discuss the question of what psychological, social, and cultural factors influence altruism and caring. The first part of my presentation will focus on the research on heroism in Nazi-occupied Europe, specifically summarizing the findings which have come from the 14-year study on heroic rescuers, published in 1988 by myself and Pearl Oliner. That study was guided by three questions: (1) was rescue primarily a matter of opportunity; that is, external circumstances and situational factors, and if so, what were they? (2) was rescue primarily a matter of individual character, that is, personal attributes, and if so what were those traits and how were they acquired? (3) was rescue a matter of moral values/moral character?
The second part of this paper will deal with new research based on the same basic framework that guided the 1988 study, but which I have expanded to include five additional groups. In addition to the data we have accumulated at the Institute dealing with Gentile rescuers of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, we have recently gathered data on Jewish rescuers, heroism, and resistance during the same period; military heroes, individuals who have won the Congressional Medal of Honor or the Victoria Cross medals; Carnegie Heroes, individuals who risk their lives on behalf of strangers in the United States, Canada and their territorial waters. In 1904 a tragic accident occurred in one of Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie's mines in which 186 workers lost their lives. He was so moved and impressed with the heroic attempts of workers to rescue the victims, that he established the Carnegie Hero Fund. Since 1905 approximately 76,000 individual names have been submitted for an award, but only approximately 8,200 have received this prestigious award as of this date. We have interviewed in depth a sample of 210 men and women who won the award to gain insight about motivation.
Also included in the study are Moral Exemplars, specific individuals who had they not lived and acted for the benefit of humankind the world would have been the poorer for it. Finally, we have interviewed in depth a sample of 93 Hospice volunteers and 63 non-volunteers, to help us better understand why the Hospice volunteers help to comfort the dying and their loved ones.
Besides the research on Gentile rescuers of Jews, research on the additional five groups that we have included in this study has been completed. I will report in this paper the preliminary findings and trace some common factors that we find among the six groups. The data strongly suggests that there is no single motivating factor, but altruism seems to be one of the predominant factors in triggering altruistic behavior. I use a definition of altruism that relies on objective, measurable criteria. We have characterized a behavior as altruistic when (1) it is directed toward helping another, (2) it involves a high risk or sacrifice to the actor; (3) it is accompanied by no external reward, and (4) is voluntary.
I see the altruistic behavior of the six groups in this study as falling on a continuum, i.e., heroic altruism involves greater risk for the helper, whereas conventional altruism is not necessarily life threatening to the helper/actor. Thus, Gentile rescuers, Jewish rescuers, military heroes, and Carnegie rescuers fall on the heroic end of the altruistic continuum, while moral exemplars and volunteers fall on the conventional end of the continuum. While we do not detect all the motivating factors that I mention below, from preliminary analysis we discern that there are some common factors among the six groups. They are: parental role modeling, courage, empathy, learning caring norms, a prevailing moral code that one does not stand by and see another human being perish, self-esteem, social responsibility, self-efficacy, a sense of justice, a feeling that one can make a difference, intrinsic religious factors, agape, inclusiveness of others in the sphere of the rescuer's/helper's responsibility, need to help the community, the need for affiliation, self-enhancement, and reduction of guilt.
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