"Altruism and The Library Parable"
by Steve Duncan
June 20, 1983

Table of Contents


Altruism is a difficult concept to comprehend, at least it is for me. There is a difference between altruism and doing a good deed. According to John M. Darley, altruism "is a word that is usually reserved for helping another person under conditions in which we can see no benefits and probably some cost to the helper for doing so" (Psychology is Social,' p246).

During lectures on altruism, by Dr. James, it was brought to my attention that deeds that I would automatically lable as "altruistic" would truly be considered just "good deeds"; meaning that in some way they are beneficial to me. New concepts were introduced to the class, as well as some concepts included in the book. The lecture that was of most interest to me was the "good samaritan" parable, which is found in the Bible in Luke 10:25-37. We discussed this parable in great length, so we could find the hidden meanings (or truths). With this parable in mind, in a dyadic quiz, we analyzied the story of Pinochio; which in itself is a parable.

From these exercises and lectures, my paper will be greatly influenced. I am going to examine altruism by using a method very similar to the "good samaritan" or Pinochio parables. I am going to analyze my altruistic acts by comparing them to the exposure to a Hamilton Library slide show presented in class. From this I shall draw conclusions on how the slide show effected my altruistic behavior.


During class we were presented with a slide show which showed how the Hamilton Library (and libraries in general) expects borrowers to treat its books. An extensive demonstration was given on the subject of misuse or bad treatment of the literary works. After the slide presentation we were to write down any comments or ideas which came to mind while watching it. Much to my surprise I realized that much more than loaning out books and helping patrons retrieve needed information are involved in managing a library.

It amazes me to think about how much damage literary works can receive from ordinary, every day use. The works are subjected to countless abuses; such as rough handling, Xerox machine misuse, page markings (dog earring the page, book marks, etc.), bugs, worms, mold, mildew, age, moisture, temperature changes, and countless loaning to people who don't respect their importance and fragility. As hard as librarians try to maintain the literature, constant use causes deterioration. It is much more than just a librarian's duty to prevent the works from becoming damaged and or destroyed. We, as borrowers, should be aware that a library's future lies in our hands; we can help maintain the books by treating them with respect or we may keep on being frivolous with them and pay for their damage in means much more than just money.

One must wonder how the treatment of library books comes in to the act of altruism. The library treatment is just a "parable" from which we can draw altruistic acts. If a person treats a library book with respect, handling it properly and not marring it in any way, he may be considered to be performing an altruistic act; meaning that his care reflects his attitude towards the book's well being. Caring for this book in the right manner may be an inconvenience for him, because he may benefit from under- lining a sentence or passage. Because of his altruistic ideals he can prevent the book from harm, thus letting the next borrower enjoy it in good condition, or at least the condition that it was originally borrowed.


Some of the facts that were presented in the slide presentation were novel to me. I never realized that the way one pulls a book of the shelf has a direct influence on the binding. If one pulls the book from the top of the spine, damage will occur causing it to peel away and come unbound. Xerox machines wreck havoc on the binding's spine too. I personally try to economize when Xeroxing pages from a book. I never realized that trying to xerox two pages in one xerox frame can cause the spine of the book to give way.

The way a person shelves a book can play a major role in the upkeep of the writing. If I was to hurriedly shelve the book without paying to much attention to what I was doing, I could easily damage it by jamming the book ends into the piece itself.

It is obvious that if people stopped and took time to realize how important their handling of the volumes is to the duration of the books life, they would treat these literary works with a little respect. It does make a difference whether a book survives over a period of time; a book represents history, a time or event that is of interest to its reader, if we are to carelessly handle these historical volumes we may lose them, and the events they represent. It is a shame to lose a book, not only because they are expensive to replace, but also highly difficult to track down when out of print.


Altruism falls in zone seven of the ennead matrix. It is under the heading of "Spiritual Drives" mainly because they are moral drives that serve to advocate the helping nature of man, without directly benefiting the helper. Dr. James proclaimed in lecture that it is the crucial point in the matrix. Altruism is one side of a polarity in our self, the other being selfism; helping yourself to benefit yourself and considering others second.

There is a big debate going on between many psychologists pertaining to the subject of altruism. They do not believe in a polarity between the self; we consider them operating on a negative bias. I personally believe in this polarity based upon the teachings of Dr. James and the readings in the text. I truly see how our material and reflective drives influence our altruistic nature, and how we can apply these zones to every day situations such as borrowing library books.

Earlier I stated that there is a correlation between the library parable and altruism. I can truly see how caring for the condition of library books can be an act of altruism. If I am indeed concerned about the future of the books readers I am committing an altruistic act. It is when I go beyond my natrual needs, like having to read the text for a class, and then beyond my self interest, whether I should underline sentences or mark important pages, that I have extended out of selfism into the realms of the altruistic.


Altruism is a difficult concept to grasp (even some psychologists do not comprehend, or attempt too comprehend altruism), yet it is an important region of the self. This region is definitely a major area from where our morals and truths stem. Altruism proves that actions speak louder than words, in the sense that if your truths allow, you should act upon what stimuli rouses your spiritual drives and not necessarily your cognitions.

I feel that the library parable really helped me grow, and attain an understanding, not only to the workings and dangers that a library faces, but to the altruistic qualities of myself. After writing this paper I realize that there is an altruistic side to my self and that I need to exercise it more often. If someone had asked me if I had an altruistic side to myself before past Friday I would have replied "no, I don't think so", but surprisingly I can now say the opposite since completing this assignment.

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