Pathological Altrusim

When kindness hurts


Perhaps one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever come across in my life is the true story of the victim that almost escaped Jeffrey Dahmer.

It’s so disturbing, in fact, that I’m unable to summarize it here. If you want to know more about it, google him and “escaped victim.” I caution you to think twice before you do, though.

In any case, had another night of insomnia recently and thought about a report I read recently by Oakland University professor Barbara Oakley, who coined a new term for something I’ve seen myself repeatedly: Pathological Altruism.

Simply put, it’s when being kind is the worst thing one can be. The Dahmer story is an extreme example but it’s an almost daily occurrence – like soccer trophies for just showing up.

We think we’re doing something kind when in fact we’re doing the exact opposite.

The wife and I watched Jamie Oliver’s TED talk about nutrition over the weekend where a grossly overweight woman came to the realization that she was – literally – killing her own children with a diet of fast food and soda.

She and I also talked about a friend I cut because he ended up being that one drunk idiot at our wedding amongst other questionable actions. He’s also had a string of really bad relationships and I’ve tried to explain that the common denominator in it all is…him.

But he keeps doing what he does and keeps getting what he gets. And I can’t surround myself with people that have no interest in being better than they were yesterday.

More on that Wednesday.

Getting back to pathological altruism, a buddy in college once came back from spring break and told me this story:

He’d been speeding home when a cop pulled him over and wrote him a ticket. The cop said he was sorry he did it but my buddy was going 50 in a 35 zone and it was foggy, as it often is in upstate NY. Stepping back into the car, my buddy continued on his way, depressed and irritated. Suddenly, a deer jumped out in front of him and he slammed on the brakes.

He said that the ticket probably saved his life, and at the very least, saved the life of the deer and his car.

Best ticket I ever got, he said.

In any case, one thing I can summarize here is a joke that goes something like this:

A bird was flying south for the winter when he became tired and fell out of the sky, landing in snow. Almost freezing to death, a cow happened to defecate on him. As the warm dung revived him, the bird began to sing. A wolf, hearing this, immediately dug him out of the dung and devoured him.

There are three morals to this story:

  1. Not everyone who craps on you is your enemy.
  2. Not everyone who pulls you out of crap is your friend.
  3. If you’re buried in crap, it’s best to keep quiet.

 

Location: caught in rain immediately before a 90 min phone call
Mood: wet
Music: Don’t take to heart the words that he says
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2 thoughts on “Pathological Altrusim”

    1. Ha, I’m glad you found it amusing – if only it were *my* joke! But still, it makes me laugh even now.

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