Pearls of Altruism

History matters. Tomorrow is the Ides of March. “Beware of the Ides of March” is a phrase from Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar. This was not frivolous theater; actually, the historical Roman dictator, Julius Caesar, was stabbed to death in the Roman senate in 44 BC on March 15th. “Barbaric!” you say. Yes, and barbaric events keep occurring both within and without senate walls.    

“I can’t watch the news. It’s just too grim.” Have you said this? I have said this some days. Yes, there is heinous behavior in the world. There is also altruistic behavior.

Our humanity task is to discover how NOT to turn our backs on world suffering, but to look for ways to initiate altruism. Contrary to what one might assume, there is evidence to show that when a natural catastrophe or some other frightful tragedy occurs, mutual helping is more often the case than pillaging or other forms of individualistic behavior. Examples of altruism are multiplying daily in extending aid to 2.6 million migrants who are fleeing Ukraine. Pearls of altruism for the wellbeing of others string together when courage trumps faint-heartedness and a sense of calm overrides fear.

We might learn something from some of the oldest living birds on our planet. The earliest sandhill crane fossil found in Florida dates back 2.5 million years. Following the end of the last ice age, migrating sandhill cranes have gathered along the narrow Platte River in Nebraska during mid-March. The annual reunion of cranes numbers over one-half million this year. Sandhill cranes are omnivorous, but 90% of their take-out diet comes from taking out left-over grain in nearby corn fields. Every evening singing crane choirs return to the sandbars of the Platte River where the cranes protect each other from coyotes. Unrelated cranes roost together in survival groups.    

I was mesmerized one spring when I spent a week volunteering at the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary along the Platte shoreline. At dawn and dusk volunteers give tours from protected blinds for tourists from all over the world. In their mass fly-aways at sunrise, crane roaring gave me goosebumps. Smaller groupings returning to sandbars offered sunset lullabies. Spectacular almost describes it! Cranes symbolize balance with beauty. Their courtship features fancy “dancing,” well, leaping into the air, while cooing their love songs. I was totally charmed one foggy morning by this sight.

Cranes model living in harmony with others. With a lifespan of 20-40 years, sandhill cranes mate for life. Both parents work together to build a nest for junior; both take turns sitting on the eggs. Resilient baby sandhill cranes, called colts, fly with their parents one day after their hatching.

We are not people of one feather, but we might expand who is in our “in-group.” Altruism is an inclusive possibility.

Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:

64. When have you engaged in altruism?

65. How might you expand altruism toward others?                   

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.

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