Real superheroes don’t wear capes. They don’t fly. They don’t have superpowers. But they serve. They serve society with all they’ve got. These are the ones who jump into burning buildings to rescue people, who run across bustling highways to save someone from an accident. These are the people who don’t think twice before deciding to donate a kidney or part of their liver to a complete stranger. They’re altruistic.
In 2016, a woman named Hayden Hatfield from Alabama had donated her bone marrow to a little girl called Skye Savren-McCormick and saved her life. The girl had been diagnosed with juvenile myelomonocytic leukaemia, a rare form of blood cancer, and Hatfield had come to her rescue like a knight in shining armour. Recently, the story came to light when little Skye became the flower girl at Hatfield’s wedding.
The child’s parents must have been very grateful to Hatfield, for she had saved their daughter. Why wouldn’t they be? What Hatfield had felt when she had decided to help can’t have been mere compassion, but altruism. Bone marrow donation is no easy feat; it’s a painful process. And yet, Hatfield didn’t think about herself before jumping to the child’s rescue. What makes people like her so selfless in a world that’s mostly selfish? Psychologist Abigail Marsh addresses this question in her Ted Talk Why Some People Are More Altruistic Than Others. Through her research, she’s found two reasons—one that’s physiological, and another that’s psychological. Turns out, altruistic people actually have larger and hyperreactive amygdala in their brains than others. This is the part of the brain that recognises another’s fear and distress. So, the hyperreactive amygdala in altruists makes them jump to the rescue of those in need.
Altruists don’t see a ‘me’ and ‘them’. They see themselves in everyone. To them, the world is but one, and people are but the same.
That’s the physiological reason. The psychological reason is that altruists don’t have a ‘centre’. “Altruists don’t think of themselves as being at the centre of anything, as being better or more inherently important than anybody else. (…) if there’s no centre of your circle, there can be no inner rings or outer rings, nobody who is more or less worthy of your care and compassion than anybody else. And I think that this is what really distinguishes extraordinary altruists from the average person,” Marsh points out.
For long, we’ve questioned if altruism is even real, if one can actually be completely selfless. Going by Marsh’s research and observations, if an altruist’s very brain is wired differently, then it is evident that selfless people do exist. Altruists like Hayden Hatfield truly don’t think about themselves when another is in need, even if it means they put themselves at great risk. It’s astounding to think human beings are capable of such selfless love. Perhaps, altruists don’t see a ‘me’ and ‘them’. They see themselves in everyone. To them, the world is but one, and people are but the same.