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The Altruistic Chef

Sunday, January 8 2017

Ours may be an age of technological wonder, but it is also an age where we are daily forced to come face to face with the dark side of human nature.

We are the first generation of humans to live in a truly interconnected global society, and the Internet now reaches its way to the most rural corners of the planet, but all of this connectivity seems to be revealing something very sinister about who we really are. Every minute of the day we are bombarded with news from both near and far - if a bomb goes off in some war torn corner of the world, we read about it mere minutes later; if some troubled soul picks up a _ rearm and shoots at an unsuspecting crowd in a rural town abroad, our Facebook news feeds are sure to be almost immediately littered with pictures of the tragedy, and right here at home we are exposed on a constant basis to horrific acts of violence. These constant gruesome images of war, violence, and people acting in their own selfish pursuits seem to paint human nature in a pretty dark light. Could there be any room for hope in all of this darkness? We humans are capable of some truly horrific things, but what if, just maybe, we really arenít as bad as we think? Renowned scholar Steven Pinker wrote an entire book (The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined) statistically proving that global violence has been declining for millennia, and that we are actually living in the most peaceful time in human history. Some of us may feel like this is totally untrue, but feelings cannot be trusted in the face of facts. Statistically speaking, it is not that the world is getting worse, itís that our connectivity has made us painfully aware of every horrible act that takes place in every far flung corner of the world. If you want to tally up the amount of violent acts taking place, then the world has been becoming a better place for thousands of years.

At the end of the day human beings are innately social creatures, and, believe it or not, we are all hard-wired for co-operation. This actually makes a lot of sense if you think of the way that we all evolved. Unlike solitary creatures such as bears and tigers, we humans have always needed one another to survive. From our very first communities as hunter-gatherers, to the development of cities across the world, we have never been able to survive on our own. We need others for our survival, and thatís why acting altruistically feels so good; we are rewarded by our evolutionary development for behaviours that contribute to the survival of the species, not just to our own selfish preservation.

A recent study conducted by the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany, showed that children as young as 18 months are likely to help a stranger in need, without any expectation of reward. These early signs of altruism point towards a picture of human nature that may be more intrinsically compassionate than many originally thought.

The other good news is that altruism is a quality that can be developed with practice through engaging in activities that are centered on the well-being of others. In our daily lives, we can all find simple, practical ways to cultivate these feelings of altruism, and one easy place to begin being more other-centered is in the kitchen. Cooking for others, after all, can be a great way to show our love and compassion for them, and can help us to develop feelings of kindness for others. As the popular food writer Michael Pollan once wrote, ďIs there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?Ē So how about we forget about ourselves for a while, and head into the kitchen and make something nice for somebody else. It may not be the solution to all the rampant egotism, selfishness, and violence in the world, but hey, itís a start.



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