Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Failed Altruism

"...[T]argeting anger at people who violate the public trust can serve a strategic and useful purpose."

"Seeking to punish those who harm the common good, especially when the punishment involves a high cost to ourselves, is really a form of altruism."

Shankar Vedantam,"The Rational Underpinnings of Irrational Anger," The Washington Post, March 2,2009.

Well, we failed this test of altruism yesterday at Washington National Airport when a woman cussed out a mobile American Airlines service agent who wasn't as helpful as she wanted and had the temerity to talk back. She denounced him a "jackass," charged under those omnipresent lane dividers and demanded to see a supervisor. She got what she needed -- a boarding pass -- while the rest of us stood docilely in lines occasioned by the big snow waiting for the other shoe to drop -- cancellations, delays, center seats.

"...30 to 40 percent of people in most groups are willing to pay a personal price to punish those who endanger the common good."

Not in our group. Okay, this altercation was a blip on the screen; maybe some of us envied her strategy to get attention; or maybe she actually was dealing with horrific circumstances. I doubt it.

I thought of saying something -- but I really didn't want her yelling at me. The price was too high for altruism or the benefits too low.

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