Can a recently published psychology study about “resentment of do-gooders” reveal deeper insights into transformative change than even the study’s interpreters realize?
There is an article recently published about a psychological study on the resentment people feel towards a do-gooder. The article proceeds, “A study by psychologists at Washington State University in the US demonstrated that apparent acts of altruism often serve only to alienate others just as much as those who are greedy. Those who volunteer to take on unwanted tasks or who hand out gifts without being prompted are resented for ‘raising the bar’ for others or treated with outright suspicion, the study found.” [A link to the full article is at the bottom of this page.]
An interpretation of that study has been offered by one activist as to why activists in the movement remain relative small in number. It may be clear that this interpretation is not coming from a transformative change viewpoint. Yet this view is presented as a foil, for following that view, a transformative perspective is given:
“Why aren’t more of us activists on behalf of the cause in which we believe? It looks like a flaw in human nature is to blame. Those who do good, by “raising the bar,” inadvertently make others feel that they look worse by comparison, thus encouraging resentment. And nobody wants to be resented. Perhaps that’s why so many problems on this planet have taken so long to solve or are not yet solved. Fortunately, some people still care more about making a better world than they do about avoiding resentment. And, whether we resent them for that or not, they are making the world better for all of us, even as folks resent them for doing so. So, here’s a tip of the hat to all of those animal rights and vegetarian activists who pay the price in order to improve the lives of all of us.” – Pete Cohon
Well that’s interesting. Yet what is really interesting may be to discuss the study from the point of view of transformative change.
While the interpretation of the study above, that a flaw in human nature explains why activists’ numbers are small, and that activism is about those who rise above human nature to “pay the price” required to improve the lives of all of us, is one interpretation (all too common, in fact), the study can also be seen as pointing to something different.
What turns people off against the do-gooders as much as the greedy people is that both groups seem equally in the state of comparing themselves to others. Both bar-raisers and takers orient themselves in relationship in how they can be identified as different from others. Whether giving to, or taking from, they are defined that way rather than just as living in their core. Transformative change says that it is living in our core, and raising the frequency, the health and sustainability of that core, which is not only the most effective way to “do good,” but also very well-likeable and able to attract others into the movement.
Being the change and creating the change both start with living in a way where we are not really thinking about weighing our lives in relation to others. That’s easy to see in the greedy person, who takes so he does not have less than, or has more than, others. But do-gooders, as in the article, serve so they either seem to be intentionally putting their altruism above, or give to they seem to be lessening themselves. Doing acts of kindness and justice in some way in order to give others shame and guilt for not also doing more is, in a word, mind games–the opposite of sovereignty and integrity. Stopping mind games takes inner work.
People can absolutely feel these mind games, even if not always on the surface, in the place inside us where we feel a certain way about a person’s energy. THIS is where movements succeed or fall.
Touching a deep truth about society here, movements succeed on the question, “Are we coming from establishing the difference between you and me, or are we coming from just what is really naturally, soulfully authentic?” Each person and group enter transformative change when they place and sustain their attention on question of themselves.
Some people assert A) for some, what is authentic really is paying a price for their work for change, and, B) if you’re not paying the price, you’re using “spirituality” to get off the hook.
For A), that is each one’s choice. However, important, does the person who feels paying a price is their authentic way to know he or she has a choice of how to be, how to relate to social change and self-sacrifice, and a possible new vista of effectiveness and movement-attractiveness? For B), what world is it that the movement is envisioning? Is it one of always separating “do gooders” and “bad/status quo-ers,” or is it awakening to the similar and united authentic yearnings at the center of human nature, behind the divisive mind games?
What is it to authentically live our lives and allow acts for change to come out of that?
A figure known in historical records only as the Essene Teacher of Righteousness said some time between the year 200 and 80 prior to the common era: “To weigh thy happiness according to that which may befall the is to live as a slave. And to live according to the angels that speak within thee is to be free.”
That means that, just as to be greedy for what someone else has, it is equally enslaving to impress upon others the rightness of something you do, even as an activist. Our altruism in the comparative mindset puts us in captivity. We can only shine our fullest light on the world when we are free.
What the study affirms is that people who are turned off and resent the “do-gooder” are actually turned off by the energy of our own putting ourselves into captivity. Humans feel “I’d rather hang out around people who are free.” Freedom or captivity absolutely includes those who are captive to dependence on what they think others think! At heart, we all want a world free of these games about what we think of each other. In that core freedom, we are and attract others into the movement.
Full original story on the psychological study: