At the high school I currently attend, an attempt at creating a new culture was implemented on the very first day back from summer this year. Dubbed the Positive School Climate Initiative, it was created to reduce the number of disciplinary measures required in the school. The Initiative required teachers to hand out “pink tickets” as rewards for positive behavior that the students could spend a new store created just for the new Initiative that only used the aforementioned pink tickets as currency.
In doing so, kids were clamoring over themselves to be seen doing the right thing so they could accrue currency for the Positive School Climate store. The public aspects of this initiative were seen immediately, fewer students were getting called out for their troublesome activities, and there were seemingly less disciplinary measures being taken by staff members. However, there has been an observed increase in the number of severe penalties handed out; i.e., police arresting students for being in possession of drugs. It seems that the Initiative has allowed students to feel good about themselves for “doing the right thing” and cause them to do the wrong things in other aspects of life. The situation also begs the question of the extent to which selfishness inhibits our ability to do the right thing, and from a larger perspective, our ability to empathize with others.
(Use different story to begin?)Leslie Jamison, in her response to Paul Bloom’s “Against Empathy”, hints at an answer to this. She suggests that doing the right thing can often be seen as rooted in a sense of self-aggrandizement, meaning that people do the right thing because it makes them feel good, rather than because it helps other people or for the simple fact that it is the right thing to do. Jamison’s argument lends a pervasive theory on this topic, that maybe we aren’t doing the right thing because it helps others, but rather that we are doing the right thing because it gives us a sense of accomplishment or pride.
However, Jamison also shows that empathy can be used for good, or that we can employ our feelings towards others to do good things and affect real change. Jamison had previously reported on the patients of a dangerous illness that often was dismissed by doctors because of its controversial symptoms, and she concluded that because they were listened to by Jamison and their situations understood, they felt more at ease about the conditions they found themselves in. Jamison repeated this process with inmates of a high-security prison and found that after hearing their stories, Jamison could tell that they felt better about where they were and the situation they found themselves in. Empathy can be used as an effective weapon of change, but it has to be based solely on the feelings of those in the dire situations.
(Stronger conclusion here) (Connect these two paragraphs better)The societal institutions we employ today, such as schools and governments, or the hospitals and prisons that Jamison visited, often rely on the idea that people are selfish, David Brooks advances in his writing “The Power of Altruism”. As in my school, where the rewarding of positive behavior is now commonplace, there are many situations where those in charge build up the next generation on the idea that people are selfish, which in turn causes the next generation to be selfish. Brooks is divergent with Jamison in that he believes that people are not naturally selfish, but rather that the above institutions have introduced to us an economic aspect to decision-making, they have caused us to believe that there is something to be gained in every situation, which catalyzes us to expect rewards for doing the right thing rather than doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
Where these sources agree, however, is that empathy can be used as a force for good, that there is a chance that humans can do the right thing for the right reason and that people may not be as selfish as they appear. Jamison suggests that a very specific type of empathy, one that is based on the idea that different people have different wants and needs, is the type that is not rooted in selfishness. She does this by citing a story about a doctor that she visited that gave her very specific care but did not simply repeat the fears that she had about her illness. Brooks argues that rebuilding the institutions that give us moral guidance, such as churches, codes of honor, and others, can help us to remember how we should treat other people and use our empathy as a force for good.However we view altruism, or our ability to do the right thing, there is no doubt that as we continue on our path as a society, it is important to keep in mind that there are people every day who are going through situations much worse than those in which we find ourselves. In order to solve the problems that we face in this world, we have to be willing to ask for help, and we have to be willing to give it to others.
There is no chance that we can affect change if we are simply selfish people trying to work in tandem with other selfish people.