Join the '51 percent club':Benefit from helper's high

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Sep 01, 2002

How do your clients respond when you and your staff have gone the extra mile to provide care for their beloved animal companions?

Likely, they have expressed their heartfelt feelings of appreciation to you in one way or another. How do you typically feel when helping to save a life, helping to cure an illness, or providing compassionate comfort to patients and their families facing chronic illness? I have found that the good feelings expressed to me by those I have had the opportunity to help (not only clients, but also students, neighbors and others) are second hand in the context that I experienced the good feelings first. This example is not surprising or uncommon since it is based on a firmly established and powerful principle: There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.

In a book entitled, "The Healing Power Of Doing Good", Allan Luks describes the positive feelings we experience as a result of altruistically helping others as the "Helpers High." (Luks A, Payne P: The Healing Power Of Doing Good. Ballantine Books, New York, 1992)

The sense of well-being associated with the helpers high has been compared to the euphoria associated with the release of endorphins during vigorous exercise (such as the "runner's high" described by marathon runners).

In fact, in a study of more than 3,296 individuals engaged in volunteer work, Luks found that the helpers high was characterized by sustained feelings of bolstered well-being, self-worth and optimism. He referred to these sustained feelings as the "Helper's Calm". In addition to an emotional response, the act of helping others may also be associated with physiologic responses. Luk provided evidence that regularly helping others reduces stress, blood pressure and heart rate.

The greater the frequency of helping others, the greater the health benefits. It is apparent that those who help others also help themselves. In other words, we gain by giving.

It has been said that it is the will more than the gift that makes the giver. It follows that one way to benefit from the helper's high is to proactively think about the welfare, concerns, and needs of others, including patients, clients, colleagues, family, neighbors and those in the community whom we by chance contact throughout the day. But more is required than positive thoughts. They must be translated into positive actions. The attribute of generosity can only be measured by the action it prompts.

With the concept of the helper's high in mind, I ask you to consider becoming a member of the 51 percent club (Osborne CA: Are you feeding the energy vampire? J Amer Anim Hosp Assoc 36: 103-105, 2000)

What are the eligibility criteria? Let me begin by stating that there are no monetary dues. However, there are two fundamental requirements. First, 51 percent club members must pledge to be willing to help other individuals by meeting them more than half way in terms of cooperation and understanding, as long as in so doing, moral and ethical principles are not compromised.

This criterium, which is symbolized by 51 percent, is a basic application of the Golden Rule. The second criterium is to strive to enroll others who will abide by the first criterium. Although extra effort may be required to be an active participant in the 51 percent club, this need not require extra time.

What is involved in practicing the 51 percent principle? The Golden Rule, a rule of ethical conduct that originated from Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31, states that we should do to others as we would have others do to us. A negative version of this principle is also attributed to the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 BC), who said, "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others". Practicing the negative version of this rule is likely to result in the "helper's low." To experience the helper's high, we must practice the positive version of the Golden Rule by taking the initiative to be altruistic (having unselfish concern for the welfare of others). Altruism (the opposite of egoism) demands that we consider the interest of others when we use our talents and possessions. But, the Golden Rule is of little value unless we recognize that the first move is ours. Striving to empathetically put ourselves into other's shoes, paws, hooves or claws is often a strong stimulus to initiate helpful action.

Put it in action

Please consider a few practical applications of the 51 percent principle.

1) We would conscientiously strive to provide the quality of diagnostic evaluation and therapy that we would desire if we were the patients and not the doctors. Our ethical code of practice demands that we not let ill-conceived diagnostic and therapeutic plans jeopardize the welfare of our patients. To this end, our actions would demonstrate that the humane aspects of veterinary medicine are just as important, if not more so, than financial considerations.

2) We would trust others as we desire to be trusted. Isn't it true that we all want to be trusted? If so, how do we earn trust? Trustworthy people learn that trust is gained more by conduct than just thoughts or words. Our daily conduct will provide outward evidence of our intent to be truthful, honest, reliable, loyal, unbiased, accountable, cooperative, just and communicative. However if trustworthiness is to grow, still more is required. Our trust in others is a form of generosity. Our conduct must be motivated by giving trust to others.

3) We would talk about others as we would have others talk about us. How often in our daily conversations do we find ourselves talking to a colleague or friend about someone who is not present? To practice the 51 percent principle, we would recognize the difference in talking about someone versus talking against someone. By being loyal to those who are absent, we will retain the respect and confidence of those who are present. If we understand the 51 percent principle, we are likely to recognize that initiating negative gossip about others may be a dishonest way of praising ourselves.

4) We would forgive others as we would want to be forgiven. As we interact with our colleagues, clients, neighbors and families, invariably we encounter situations where others fall short of their promises or make errors that affect us. Shouldn't our awareness that we also make mistakes cause us to take the initiative of being forgiving and mild-tempered when dealing with these situations?

Don't most of us have a tendency to be very lenient in forgiving and justifying our own shortcomings? Are we as forgiving to others whom we contact in our daily activities? We should remember that the root word in "forgive" is "give".

Think about it. If members of the veterinary profession, their clientele and others they come into contact with each day channeled their energies in striving to go more than half way in interacting with each other, the benefits could fill these pages with good news.

From bad to good

Bad news about animals and human cruelty would be replaced with those of good deeds based on mild-mannered patience and courtesy. There would be a conspicuous absence of bad news related to misunderstandings related to gender harassment, negligence and malpractice. On the national level, reports would appear about the refreshing absence of commercial and corporate misconduct. Actions based on selfishness and greed would become the exception rather than the rule.

Altruistic acts of generosity and compassion would become the rule rather than the exception.

Have I persuaded you that becoming a member of the 51 percent club is worthy of your consideration? If so, will you join the club and help to enlist others?