Habits of Kindness That Will Endure

Jamil Zaki: Disasters rip away the tidy fallacy of self-reliance and lay bare our utter dependence on each other. They shock us into seeing our shared fragility, which is also our shared humanity. That’s why, in times of crisis, we are usually eager to help strangers, in what the essayist Rebecca Solnit has called a “carnival of compassion.” After 9/11, people around the U.S. stood in line for hours to donate blood. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a group of private boat captains dubbed themselves “The Cajun Navy” and set out to rescue neighbors. Psychologists Ervin Staub and Johanna Ray Vollhardt call this type of reaction “altruism born of suffering,” and it has surprising side effects. Most important, it leaves helpers healthier.

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