Altruism refers to the disinterested concern for the well-being of the other person. In other words, it means doing acts of kindness for the other person, not because you are obliged to do so or you are motivated by any type of reward; your only purpose behind helping is, the concern for the other person. Altruism may involve several little or big acts of kindness such as giving your food to a beggar, helping your neighbour in distress, or even saving someone else’s life at the risk of your own life. One may get confused that ‘helping’ and ‘altruism’ are the same thing. Well, helping and altruism may seem similar, but they are two different things. When you help someone, there could be your benefit in that help, but altruism is an act wherein the person does not look at whether there is any personal benefit involved in that help or not. An individual’s act of altruism is not motivated by its self-benefits, it’s only motivated by the safety or the concern for the other person. For example, Suppose a car riding in front of you suddenly stops in your driveway, you decide to help the driver of that car not just because you care about the driver, but because that car is stopped in your driveway. Your self-benefit of reaching your destination by helping the driver in repairing the car (which is stopped in your driveway) is involved in this action. Hence, it is an act of help. Now suppose, you see that a person gets hit by a car on the highway. You help that person in reaching the hospital. The person is a stranger, you don’t have any personal benefits behind helping that person, hence this is an act of altruism. In this article, we’ll know about the many more examples of the act of altruism displayed by the animals and the humans in history.
Examples of Altruism in History
1. Charlie Kees’s Altruistic Act for Yukiko Marth
An athlete named Yukiko Marth’s story strengthens the existence of altruism in humans. It’s an incident of September 1999, when Marth woke up one morning and she found out that both of her ankles were ballooned with fluid. She thought that it could be due to the continuous volleyball practice for the past three days. She went to see the doctor, where she was recommended to went through several clinical tests. Her test reports shocked her as she found that her kidneys were operating just 15 per cent, and she was on dialysis within a few days. She was diagnosed with acute glomerulonephritis. She quoted,
I’d gone to bed as an athlete and awakened a woman with kidney failure.
By the December of that year, Marth was unable to eat and became very weak. The only way she could recover was a kidney transplant. Doctors had told her that a cadaverous kidney transplant (kidney taken from a dead person) usually takes three years, while Marth’s condition was fragile and the chances for her survival for three years were very low. At this moment, Marth’s occasional volleyball and tennis partner Charlie Kees appeared to help her. He offered to donate his kidney if their blood type matches. This is what Kees said when he was asked about the motivation behind his altruistic act.
I knew where she had been as an athlete, and I was watching her body become deteriorated and emaciated and constantly tethered to a machine. And my only thought was if there was any way I could help her get back to where she had been, I wanted to do it. It just felt like something I was supposed to do. It felt like it was my purpose to help.”
The blood type of both Marth and Kees turned out to be a perfect match. After suffering the pain of dialysis and tests over the year, on 28 June 2001, Marth’s kidney was replaced by that of the Kees. Marth was first hesitant to jeopardize Kees’s health, but doctors assured her that Kees will recover soon. After the transplant, Kees recovered very fast, and Marth was also able to join back the court after a few weeks of the surgery. After a year of her kidney transplant, Marth also won the gold in US Transplant Games at Orlando in 2002.
2. Altruistic Act of Americans
It’s a story of a woman named Sheila Wessenberg, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2001. According to Wessenberg, she was living a great and happy life with her husband and children at a luxury home in Dallas, and then cancer destroyed her life. She underwent a lumpectomy and chemotherapy. But, cancer returned in September 2001. She had a right-side mastectomy in October and begins chemotherapy in March 2002. Sheila was told by her doctor that she has barely 18 more months of her life. After some weeks, Sheila’s husband, Bob, lost his job, which result in major financial distress. Sheila went through her and her husband’s portfolio, and children’s bank accounts. To manage their expenses, they had to sell their artwork, jewellery, Bob’s coin collection, and many other precious items. While Sheila was still on chemotherapy, she started working part-time for managing the finances. They somehow paid for the health insurance for six months until the per month premium jumped to a large amount. She didn’t have enough money to buy the groceries. Her situation went so bad that she had to leave her chemo, and begin panhandling. Later, one night, she saw an advertisement for the ‘Covering the Uninsured’ campaign and logged on to their online page, where she typed her heart-wrenching story. A turning point came in his life after this incident. After two weeks, she received a call from a journalist, who was writing a book related to the campaign for uninsured Americans. The journalist included Sheila’s story in her book, this book was later featured in the New York Times. After a few days, one morning, Sheila got a call from a former CEO of a major company, he mentioned that he read about her in The New York Times and he wanted to help her. She received many more calls that offered her financial help. Sheila was amazed at how in a couple of days she was able to deal with her financial crisis. She sent Thank-you notes to everyone who helped her, and she designed most of the notes on her computer. One of her female friends liked her designs, and she asked Sheila to design the invitation card for her son’s birthday party. Later, a colleague of that same friend offered her to design her wedding invitations. In this way designing the thank you notes lead her to start her own business of designing. Even though Shiela did not take the full chemotherapy treatment her condition improved.
There are no words to express the immense gratitude, the peaceful feeling I now have, and the awe I fell for the incredible people who reached out to me, and for the enitre mircaulous experience. The fact that I’m still alive and have a roof over my head, I completely attribute to the incredible Kindness of the Americans public and the good feelings it created in me” – Sheila Wessenberg
3. The Best Christmas Gift – Altruism
It’s an incident in August 1999, when a person named David Hutmacher experiences a sudden pain in his belly while he was sitting at his workstation in a company in Roswell, Georgia. He went to the hospital, where he found that he was suffering from diverticulitis (an inflammatory disease). The pain was so severe that he went through two surgeries. He was admitted for nearly 3 months in the hospital. Due to this, in December, the month he ran out of all the sick leaves and vacations provided by the company, he received only 10 per cent of his pay than usual. This worried him and his two little daughters and his wife, who was working as a teacher and barely managing all the expenses. Christmas was also around the corner and he was aware that he won’t be able to join the office before mid-January due to his health issues. Then, something unexpected happened. Two weeks after he received the December paycheque, he got a full paycheque of that month along with the additional money that was deducted from his previous paycheque. David was surprised to see that, and he immediately called the controller to ask about it. The controller told him that all the employees (a total of 70) had donated their left vacation time and cash to him. David was amazed and grateful for this generous act of his colleagues. David also find out that, even though his colleague helped him by donating him the money, the controller of the company Sandy Davis was the real brain behind this action. One of the employees of the company went to the controller and offered to donate his leave and vacation time to David, this gave Sandy an idea to help David. Sandy sent an e-mail to all the employees of the company to inform everyone about David’s condition and suggested to the employees that they can help him by donating their vacation time to David, sandy promptly donated her vacation time too. In this way, David received a total of 24 vacation days, which gave him enough time for his health recovery.
It’s absolutely the greatest gift I’ve ever gotten. I love my family. I love my children. But my colleagues’ generosity has touched me more than anything else, because it was so unexpected and so freely given. That Christmas was one of the best I’ve ever had.” – David Hutmacher
4. London Bridge Stabbing Incident, 2019
A civil servant, Darryn Frost gains popularity in the media after he displayed an act of bravery during the London bridge stabbing, in 2019. Some people were attending a conference at Fishmongers Hall, London, and suddenly the attacker Britson Usman Khan starts stabbing them. He scared the people with the knives in his hands and the suicide vest that he was wearing. Frost was not carrying any weapon to fight with Khan, he still intervened to rescue the people. Frost took a narwhal tusk from the nearby wall and starts chasing the Khan. Even though being completely aware of the suicide vest that Khan was wearing (which later turned out to be fake), he still did not care about his life and he ran after him. Later, the police shot the attacker on the London Bridge.
5. An Act of Altruism Saved Many Lives
Iowan Elmer, a sergeant of the United States Army, was assigned to lead the troops in the Battle of Bulge between the USA and Germany at the Hurtgen Forest. During the war, Elmer’s Jeep was ambushed by the German troops, and a bullet hit his stomach, and eventually, he was captured by the German troops. A German doctor Ludwig Gruber saw Elmer’s condition and started his treatment. The commander of the hospital told Ludwig that he is not supposed to show that empathy as Elmer is an enemy soldier, but Ludwig ignored the commander and continued treating Elmer. While Elmer was still healing in the German camp, an Army Captain of America arrived at the German camp for the negotiation under a truce. After negotiation, the Americans agreed to stop the bombing, if the Germans won’t park their military vehicles near the American base camp. Elmer was then taken to the American military camp. Unfortunately, Elmer was able to survive for only a week, after the injury, but this act of kindness of Dr Gruber acted as one of the crucial factors that stopped the war and saved many lives that would have been killed if the war would have been continued.
6. Battle at Kruger
Battle at Kruger is one of the most amazing safari videos filmed. It was posted on 3 May 2007 on YouTube, and viewed by millions of people making it one of the most viewed videos on YouTube. This video was also featured in many wildlife publications and websites such as Time Magazine, and National Geographic, and it also won the best eyewitness video award in the second annual YouTube Video awards telecasted on 11 May 2008. This video was captured by David Budzinski and Jason Schlosberg in September 2004 in the Kruger National Park of South Africa during a safari. In this video, several adult buffalos along with a baby buffalo were herding alongside a river. A group of lions were resting and watching the behaviour of the buffalos from a distance. After some time, the lions suddenly approached the buffalos and scared them. Due to this, the buffalos started rushing. The group of lions targeted the baby buffalo of the group and dragged it away from the group of buffalos into the nearby shallow water. The lions started biting the baby buffalo. While the lions were about to kill the baby, a pair of crocodiles join the hunt. When a crocodile bites the baby buffalo, a battle begins between the lion and the crocodile for the baby buffalo. The lions eventually win and bring the baby onto the land. During this moment, some buffalos come to the rescue of the baby buffalo. Buffaloes attack the lions with bravery, and they are eventually able to chase off the lions. In this way, the altruistic act of buffalos saved the life of a baby buffalo.
7. Angel: A Dog, Who Saved a Boy’s Life
An 11-year-old boy was doing some work in his backyard and suddenly encountered a cougar. The boy got scared as the cougar is about to attack him. During this moment their family dog named Angel intervened. Angel jumped in front of the cougar to protect the boy. Nearby police came to the rescue after hearing the screaming voices of the boy. Eventually, the cougar was killed while rescuing the Angel. Angel was then taken to the hospital, where after the treatment he got discharged.
8. Humpback Whale Helped a Seal
Two marine ecologists John Durban and Robert Pitman witnessed a something incident in the waters of the West Antarctic Penisula in January 2009. They mentioned it in a research journal named Marine Mammal Science. They observed a seal was relaxing on an ice floe and suddenly some killer whales arrived and started attacking the seal. Well, this is not a strange thing as seals are included in the meal of the killer whales, hence they usually attack them for food. The strange thing was that two humpback whales intervene in the situation and began to protect the seal from the killer whales. This is not normally seen because the humpback whales and killer whales are natural enemies and these two species usually do not interact with each other. Also, the humpback whales do not eat seals, hence there is no point in protecting the seal from the killer whales for the eating purpose. This act of humpback whales is considered pure altruism as the seal does not even belong to the species of humpback whales, hence this act can not be explained through the evolutionary concept.
9. Massai Herders’ Helping Tradition
Massai herders, who live on the Serengeti plain, Africa show altruism towards the other members of the group. They follow a concept named ‘osotua,’ which means ‘umbilical cord.’ According to this concept, if any member of their group does not have enough resources, or he/she is asking for help, then the person must provide help. Massai herders often give some of their herds to the one who does not have them. The helper does not demand any cost or reward in exchange for giving its herds, hence it is an act of altruism. People suggest that the Massai herders display this act of altruism because of the higher unpredictability of their future. Massai herders do not have multiple sources of income; their earnings depend only upon their livestock such as sheep, goats, and cattle. If due to any reason such as the spread of any disease or natural disasters they lose their livestock, it can put their survival at risk. All the Massai herders are equally likely to suffer this loss, hence they help each other in the hope of receiving the same in case they encounter any danger in future.
10. Air Florida Flight Incident, 1982
Air Florida Flight met with an accident during its journey from the United States to Fort Lauderdale in 1982. It smashed into a bridge built over the Potomac River, US. The aircraft had 74 passengers and 5 crew members in it during the crash. The aircraft got tilted over the bridge, and the passengers got hung to the tail of the aircraft over the water. A helicopter was sent by the authorities to rescue the passengers. A passenger named Arland William displayed an act of altruism during the rescue of the passengers. When the helicopter arrived, Arland William started helping their fellow passengers to get attached to the rope connected with the rescue helicopter. When all the passengers except only one, i.e., William, were taken to the safety area and the helicopter came back to rescue William, he was not there. He was drowned in the water of the Potomac River. Arland Williams sacrificed his life for helping the strange passengers, this is an act of true altruism. Arland could have saved himself, instead, he chose to save the life of fellow passengers.
11. Wesley Autrey: Subway Samaritan
A person named Wesely Autrey gained international popularity after he saved the life of a stranger Cameron Hollopeter. It’s an incident of the year 2007, Hollopeter suddenly suffered a seizure and fell on the subway track. Autrey who was present there saw this and ran for the Hollopeter’s help. While he was doing the first aid, he noticed a train approaching them. He tried to take the Hollopeter to safety, but time was limited. He then dragged the Hollopeter to the trench between the drags and held him firmly there, and he got successful in saving the Hollopeter’s life. He was featured on Time’s 100 most influential people in the world list (2007) for the display of this altruistic act. Media described him by the various heroic names such as ‘Subway Superman,’ ‘Subway Hero,’ and ‘The Hero of Harlem.’
12. Chimpanzees’ Concerns for their Partner
Chimpanzees are considered one the most lively animals. Various examples show their altruistic behaviour. The result of a study conducted by two psychologists Martin Schmelz and Sebastian Grünesien shows the concerns altruism that Chimpanzees show towards their partners. This study was conducted on six male chimpanzees (each paired with their partner) and all were trained to play a sharing game. The female chimpanzees were ordered to pull one out of the four ropes. Each rope represents a choice. The one who is pulling the rope will get a banana pallet if rope A is pulled, if rope B is pulled, the partner of the one who is pulling the rope will get the banana pallet. If rope C is pulled, both the partner and the one who is pulling the rope will get the banana pallet; however, if rope D is pulled, the chance to select any option from these four choices will be shifted to their male partner (subject). The game is started by a female chimpanzee Tai, who is trained to always pull the rope D, which means giving up her chance for getting the banana pallet and allowing its partner to choose from all the available options. It was found that when the female chimpanzee chose option D, the male chimpanzees (subjects) choose to pull the rope C, which provided the banana pallet both to them and their partners. This shows that male chimpanzees understood that their partner have made a risky choice because they may lose the chance to have a banana pallet by allowing them to choose from the given options. To value their partner’s decision they pulled the rope C. The male chimpanzees displayed a similar act even when it cost them some amount of their food. For example, the whole experiment was the same, apart from the ratio of the banana pallet one gets. If the female chimpanzee gives up his turn, the male subject will have to choose from only two options. Option A will give them the 4 banana pallets and option B will give them and their partner 3 banana pallets. The results showed that the subjects choose to sacrifice their one banana pallet and selected option B the 44 per cent time in comparison with the 17 per cent time when the experimenter made the choice instead of the female chimpanzees. This shows that even if it cost them some amount of their food, chimpanzees still choose to value their partner’s decisions.
13. Dolphins’ Act of Altruism towards Mother Humpback Whale and her Baby
Dolphins and Whales are not generally seen intermingling. However, the following video shows an amazing helping act performed by a pod of dolphins for the female Humpback whale and her baby. In this video, a female Humpback whale is seen swimming with her baby off the Flinder Bay coast, Western Australia. Suddenly, a group of male humpback whales surround the Female Humpback whale. Male Humpback whales start competing with each other, presumably to mate with the female humpback whale. During this scenario, the whale baby and her mother start getting separated, which is dangerous for the baby whale. At this moment, a pod of dolphins arrives to help the mother and her baby. The dolphins were able to chase most of the male humpback males within an hour. During this operation, one of the dolphins also showed very unusual signs of aggression, it showed its teeth toward the male humpbacks. This act of dolphins toward the protection of the Humpback whale and her baby is truly an act of altruism.
14. Lulu: A Pig, Who Saved its Owner’s Life
A pig named Lulu is popular for saving its owner’s life. Lulu’s owner had a cardiac attack, and nobody was there in the home except lulu to help her. Lulu got distressed and left the house to get help. Lulu went on a crowded road in front of the house and lay in the middle of the road pretending to be dead. He did this act to grab the attention of the others. A kind driver stooped and went closer to the Lulu. The driver saw the cuts, which Lulu got while running out of the home through the backyard in hurry. The driver shouted that he found an injured pig. JoAnn heard the driver and shouted back to get the driver’s attention. The driver saw JoAnn’s condition and called the ambulance. JoAnn went through an emergency open-heart surgery. According to the doctors, she would have died if they would have been 15 minutes late. Lulu’s act of altruism was published in several newspapers and magazines and she appeared on several international talk shows, one of them is ‘Late Show with David Letterman.’ She also got the Tiffany gold medal from the ‘American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).’
15. Sheltering Jews from the Holocaust
Jewish holocaust is among the most brutal incidents in human history. Millions of Jews (nearly two-thirds of the Jewish population in Europe) were killed by the order of Nazi Germany during the Second World War. It was declared by the Nazis that nobody is allowed to intervene in the Holocaust, still, some people dared to help the Jewish by providing them shelter. Helping the Jewish at the risk of their survival is definitely an act of altruism.
16. Chile Highway Incident, 2009
A video of a dog helping an injured dog was posted on a youtube channel on 9 February 2009 and went viral. Allegedly, this incident was captured by the surveillance cameras deployed on a highway in Chile. In this incident, a dog was hit by a car and lying on the highway. Nobody helped the dog and the vehicles were passing by the injured dog. After some time, another dog saw the injured dog lying still on the highway, and he carefully dragged that dog to the side of the road where there was lesser traffic. This action of the dog left millions of viewers of that video amazed. The dog who was rescuing the injured dog was himself at the risk of being hit by the vehicles as the highway was heavily crowded, but he still dared to help the injured dog, hence this action is considered an altruistic action.
17. A Herd of Cow Rescued a Baby Seal
Another incident of a herd of cows rescuing a baby seal on 22 July 2015 in Lincolnshire, England is also a great example of altruism. A baby seal stuck in a pool of mud and trying so hard to come out. A herd of cows saw this and began helping the seal by pushing it out of the mud. The seals and cows do not have any relation, yet the cows helped the seal baby. This shows that the cows were able to sense the pain of the baby seal and helped the seal to relieve its distress.
18. Dory: A Bunny, Who Gave the Kick of Life to its Owner
Dory, a rabbit, gained popularity in the media after showing an altruistic act of saving its owner’s life. Dory’s owner Simon Stegall was tired after work, and he went to his room for sleeping. After some moments, Steggal went into a diabetic coma. Steggal’s wife Victoria assumed that he is just sleeping, but Dory rightly interpreted its owner’s condition. Dory began to jump over the chest of the Steggal and lick his face to alert Victoria. Dory’s behaviour captured Victoria’s attention and she went to check Steggal. Victoria immediately called the ambulance after realising that he is into a diabetic come. This act of Dory saved the life of Simon Stegall.
19. Well-Fed Vampire Bats Shared Meal with Hungry Vampire Bats
When we hear the word vampire bats, many of us picture them as evil and scary creatures because they feed on the blood of animals. Well, they may seem scary but their behaviour towards their fellow bats shows that they possess altruism. Some biologists experimented at the University of Maryland to analyse this altruistic behaviour of the vampire bat. In this experiment, the experimenter provided the meal to only a few bats while the other bats were not provided with the meal. It was observed that the vampire bats who had their meal gave the regurgitated meal to the ones who were not provided with any meal. Also, it was claimed by the researchers that hungry bats did not demand any food from the well-fed food, yet well-fed bats shared the food with the hungry bats. It is to be noted that vampire bats can die within 2 to 3 days without food, hence it can be assumed that the well-fed bats shared their meals with the hungry bats to save their life.
20. Gorilla Saved a Boy’s Life, 1996
An amazing incident of the altruistic act by a female gorilla named Binti Jua was observed in a zoo in Illinois in 1996. A three-year-old boy fell into the gorilla’s enclosure, and Binti Jua helped him. She picked up the boy and also protected him from the other gorillas. She carried the boy to a safe place, and when zookeepers arrived to rescue the child, she gave him to them.
21. Dolphin Saved the Surfer’s Life
There are several examples available that show the altruistic behaviour of the Dolphins. One such example is the wonderful act of a Dolphin, who saved the life of a 24 years old person named Todd Endris. Endris was surfing off the coast of California and suddenly a white shark began to attack him. Shark attacked him multiple times and Endris fell off his surfboard. At this moment, out of nowhere a group of Dolphins appeared for his rescue. Dolphins encircled the Endris, this allowed the Endris enough time to get back on his surfboard and reach the shore, where his friends gave him the emergency first aid.
22. Whale Helped the Diver from Sinking
A 26-year-old diver Yang Yun participated in a contest conducted by the management of the Polar Land Aquarium, China for the selection of a whale trainer. In this competition, the divers were told to sink to the bottom of an arctic pool (20 feet) filled with the beluga whales (white whales), and they had to stay in the pool without any breathing equipment for as long as they can. While doing so, Yun suffered a leg cramp, and she was unable to come out to the surface. As stated by Yun,
I began to choke and sank lower, and I thought that was it for me, I was dead”
A Beluga named Mila whale saw that Yun is sinking, and it came for her help. Mila held Yuna’s leg in its mouth and helped her in reaching to the surface. This incredible act of Mila saved the life of Yang Yun.
23. Rats Showing Altruism
A study published by two psychologists Jean Decety and Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, and neuroscientist Peggy Mason on 9 December 2011 in a science journal reveals that rats can also show selfless behaviour. In this study, the researchers experimented on a group of rats. One of the rats from the group was caged in a temporary cage-like structure of pens, and a pile of chocolates were placed in another similar cage. The other rats were freely allowed to roam around the two cages. The free rats had the option to break the cage filled with chocolates and eat all the chocolates, instead, it was observed that 23 out of 30 rats decided to liberate their member first from the cage, and then broke the second cage filled with the chocolates. Peggy Mason considered it the first study that shows the presence of altruism in rodents.
24. Run for Heros
Millions of healthcare workers lost their lives fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. A resident of the United Kingdom, Olivia Strong, 27 years old woman decided to help the healthcare workers by raising a fund of 5,000 Euros through a campaign named ‘Run for Heros,’ but little did she know that she will end up raising the fund over £5 million. According to the then lockdown rules of the U.K government, people were allowed to leave their homes only for the essential work and for one daily exercise. Strong thought of utilising this liberty of one form of exercise through her campaign. She said,
If we combine our one form of exercise a day that we’re currently getting because everyone’s out running anyway, then maybe we can make a difference.”
The tagline of her campaign ‘Run for Heros’ was ‘run, donate, nominate.’ In this campaign, the participant had to run, walk, or cycle 5 km, and donate 5 Euros, and then they had to nominate five more people to repeat this act. Nearly eight lakh people participated in this campaign and the raised 5 million Euros was donated to ‘NHS Charities Together’ for the U.K healthcare workers fighting against the covid-19.
25. Sadie: A Dog Who Saved its Owner’s Life
People call dogs one of the most loyal animals for a reason. An incident of a dog named Sadie who saved its owner’s life strengthens this belief. Sadie’s owner Brian shared this altruistic act of his dog on his Facebook page. He said that he suffered from a stroke, while no one else was present at the home except Sadie. He shared that seeing his condition Sadie stayed with him all the time and licked his face so that he stay awake. Sadie even helped drag him towards his mobile to call the ambulance. As stated by Brian, without Sadie, Brian could have never been able to reach his mobile. This act of Sadie provided its owner with a second chance at life.