The Archetype of Reciprocal Altruism

The Archetype of Reciprocal Altruism

No longer is it out of place to wonder if we are all born with the capacity of empathy, and that it just takes time or the right circumstances for it to emerge. It is not a stretch to ask if all the related virtues, like love, compassion, caring, charity, mercy, service, sacrifice, helpfulness, cooperation, courtesy, kindness, and thoughtfulness, are also hardwired into who we are as spiritual human beings.

We seem to know intuitively that caring for and assisting others in time of need without concern for our own needs not only feels right but also contributes to our own sense of well-being and happiness. Altruism is love, compassion, and kindness in action. What we are witnessing more of recently is that certain tragedies in the world set off a compassion trigger in the brain and we feel called to action. We saw this in the overwhelming response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that took over 200,000 lives. Charitable donations to an independent UN relief fund immediately following this totaled $6.25 billion, unlike any response ever seen before.

There have always been exceptions to this pattern of expanding circles of compassion, but they are also part of the pattern, seen as shadow behaviors of old, deeply engrained ways rearing their head in resistance to progress. A stark example of this is seen in fearful and hateful responses to immigrants and refugees. While relocation has always been central to the human condition, recent anti-immigration tendencies, such as a desire to close borders to those displaced by war and persecution, represent part of the clash of opposing forces needed to bring about complete transformation and the final death-throes of an ill-fated system based on prejudice, greed, and fear, which is being replaced by an inclusive system rooted in love and altruism.

The overriding rule of natural selection and evolution is still seen to be “generalized reciprocity,” or “reciprocal altruism.” Evolutionary psychologists believe that various impulses designed for the “practical purpose of bringing beneficial exchange” (such as: generosity, gratitude, and empathy for those who reciprocate) are built into us. These are found in all cultures, they say.

Jung’s notion of archetypes is further evidence of our being hardwired for altruistic love. The psyche of a newborn child is not a “tabula rasa in the sense that there is absolutely nothing in it.” The child’s brain “is predetermined by heredity,” and expresses “inherited instincts and preformed patterns… They are the archetypes, which…produce…astonishing mythological parallels,” and are, therefore, “inherited possibilities of ideas” that represent “the authentic element of spirit,” or “a spiritual goal toward which the whole nature of man strives.” The archetype is that which potentially connects us to our own divine nature.

 

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