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Research shows humans are innately wired to help one another and act cooperatively

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Posted at 12:41 PM, Mar 29, 2022

The cardinal rule of journalism is to approach topics with the utmost level of objectivity to the topic at hand. I will admit, that was difficult to do with this story as it involves the human experience and an interview with my mother, Anne.

My mom lives in my home state of New Jersey with my dad, and like many mothers, she has been a rock throughout my life, particularly when it comes to understanding humanity; she has a level of empathy I have found to be rare.

So, when I gave her a call last week about how studies prove human are innately good, I did not expect to get a small story of her own that exemplifies that very point.

Last week, my mom was driving to Ohio to visit my grandmother when she stopped for some lunch and accidentally locked herself out of her car.

“I tried to open the back door and it was locked. And I’m looking in the car and there are my keys and there’s my purse and they’re just like, 'Hello?'” she said while laughing.

As she was scrambling to find a solution, a local man named Eric Taylor, who was out picking up some supplies for his own mother, stopped to help. He bought my mom lunch as her wallet was stuck in the car, and she used his phone to call AAA. The two would spend the next 45 minutes together waiting for AAA to arrive as they talked about their families.

“I just looked at this lady and she just looked a little worried, so anxiety kind of set in and I’m just like, 'OK, something’s going on. I think this woman needs my help,'” recalled Taylor.

Studies suggest small acts of kindness like this happen all the time; we just need to look for them.

During the first year of the pandemic, charitable donations reached a record high in the United States of $471 billion, according to a study by Indiana Unversity, as 56% of Americans say they gave money to a cause they cared about.

Not only that, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse survey, between 11 million and 13 million Americans gave away or planned to give away all their pandemic stimulus checks.

During a crisis where political divides felt they were wedging us further apart than ever before, numbers suggest we were, in fact, closer to one another than we thought possible.

“That’s what sort of catches our attention, sort of the dramatic, the catastrophic, the overwhelming, the overpowering, and I think a lot of times that’s what we see, and it’s easy to fall in the trap of thinking that’s how the world really is,” said Kevin Petersen, a licensed family therapist.

“I mean, these are little things, but they end up being that chain link of humanity that allows us to go through the world and say we are one,” said my mom about her experience.

Further research proves humans are born with a sense of altruism. Researchers at Yale and Harvard found that when faced with group-based financial decision-making tasks, the human instinct is to act cooperatively, not selfishly. German researchers found that before they are too young to learn social behaviors, infants spontaneously help one another and will even overcome obstacles to do so.

So, next time you see that tweet or headline that discourages your faith in humanity, remember that science-based evidence proves it is just a part of the human condition, and not the entirety of what all of us are instinctually wired to do.

“It’s the little moments between people, ultimately, that give me hope about humanity,” said my mom.

Thanks for the reminder.