Is it in our genes to help others?


What is it that causes people to help and come to the rescue of others who are experiencing a crisis? This phenomenon occurs whether one is witnessing an accident and stops to help or one reads about an earthquake far away and sends money or blankets.

Consider the outpouring of food and clothing to Qualcomm Stadium where so many evacuees were housed during our terrible fires. So much was brought that people were asked to stop the donations.

This is helping strangers, people you have never met and who won’t know to whom to attribute this largess to.

A similar event occurred here in La Jolla, when a busload of people had to be turned away from Qualcomm because they were too ill and the driver was calling facilities desperate to find shelter. Due to current construction, the retirement community of the White Sands of La Jolla had some apartments available. They took 10 people into their skilled nursing facility and then brought four to the Cloisters of La Jolla, a skilled nursing facility, as these people were in need of more medical help than could be provided. They were accepted there too, free of charge. County Health contacted White Sands and asked them to take in more evacuees - 18 were housed from one to three days, also at no charge.

White Sands had to use extra staff and spent $4,000 to $5,000 for renting beds, buying linens, towels, and sundry toiletries such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoos, and hand creams. One room was converted into a hospitality center where food was provided as well as a TV to watch the fire as it unfolded.

Six residents offered their extra rooms; there was an outpouring of clothes, blankets, and kitchenware. Residents even donated some jewelry. I’m quoting a card that was received from one of the evacuees: “Not knowing who gave the necklace to my daughter (age 13), please make sure the person knows that it has been the first thing that she has received that she has actually called hers. And now that she has finally grabbed onto one material thing, I think she can finally start to walk out of the ash that has been her recent past. Thank you.”

Most of the older folks here in White Sands have been major players in industry, education and the military. They have been at the top of their professions, and now instead of “has beens” they have morphed into something new: a family of people who look out for not only each other, but for outsiders as well.

So what is all this about? Is altruism in our genes? Is it a survival mechanism - “I take care of you so that you will take care of me?” We still have the genes from a time when the welfare of our tribe was essential to our own survival.

In other words, we do feel others’ pain, and this might explain the wish to make things easier for those who have lost everything, who are fearful, who have nowhere to stay.

So we are back to our ancestral beginnings eons ago: a tribe, here for each other, feeling good about being able to help.

We are still here for each other and yes, it feels good to be able to help.