Why We Lost Our Instinctive Altruism

You were born a kind, pure, flawless human being.

But then we all grow up and look what happens!?! What causes us to lose the purity of our essential human innocence?

At Washington University in St. Louis researchers experimented with 19-month olds. A researcher drops an object near a toddler but out of the adult’s reach, intentionally, and then signals they would like to have it. More than half of the children will pick it up and return it to the stranger. If the adult doesn’t signal they want the item, the child is usually indifferent.

“Our purity at birth is what separates us from animals,” says Dr. Asim Shah, professor and Executive Vice Chair of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine. “When a person is born, they all are born selfless, they are born with care for each other. The problem is with time, with parenting, everything changes.”

It’s environment and the influence, mostly of parents, but also the examples set by the other people who populate our lives that form who we become. We are born to imitate what we are taught. In nature vs. nurture, we are born naturally kind, but easily nurtured to lose the innate altruism that is a hallmark of humanity. It’s hard to put the aged genie back in the bottle.

“Why are we becoming less selfless, why can’t we go back to how we are born? It has a lot to do with our environment, our training, but if possible we should go back to the same environment as we are born with,” says Dr. Shah.

That, he suggests, takes a lot of counseling, time and conscious effort. It doesn’t just happen. Kindness is a conscious choice.

Son is kissing his mother.

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