The Generosity Spectrum

Listen 49:05
Coins in a glass jar with the word

(Inna Kot/Big Stock)

When it comes to generosity, there’s a wide spectrum in terms of how far we’ll go for others. There’s buy-your-friends-dinner generosity, donate-to-charities generosity — and then there’s give-your-organ-to-a-perfect-stranger generosity. There’s generosity that makes us feel good, generosity that happens anonymously, generosity that goes viral on social media, generosity that changes someone’s mood, and generosity that changes someone’s life.

On this episode, we explore generosity — what it is, where it comes from, and how it spreads. We talk with Georgetown psychologist and neuroscientist Abigail Marsh, who studies everything from psychopaths to extraordinary altruists. We hear stories about the role of an altruistic family structure in the Black community and find out how the TV show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is inspiring random acts of kindness.

Also heard on this week’s episode:

  • When Kelly Schmidt heard about a stranger who was hanging onto dear life as he waited for a donated kidney, she made a spur-of-the-moment decision to help him — by donating one of her own. She’d been a volunteer for an organization called Gift of Life, and had long felt passionate about organ donation — but this was a huge step beyond her previous volunteer work. What motivated this incredibly generous act? We talk to Kelly and the recipient of her kidney, Roc Hyon.
  • Georgetown University psychologist and neuroscientist Abigail Marsh has spent years studying the human spectrum of altruism. She explains what brain scans of psychopaths helped her discover about extraordinary altruists, how the desire for gratitude complicates altruistic motives, and how organ donors felt about The New York Times Magazine’s viral story, “Who Is the Bad Art Friend.”
  • When Sade Boyewa lost her job due to COVID-19, she took it as a blessing in disguise — and started the Harlem Community Fridge, sparking a movement of generosity across New York City and beyond. But can altruism stirred by the pandemic create lasting change?
  • What would cause strangers who’ve never met to send each other help, money, and gifts? Just one shared interest: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Alan Yu reports on a close-knit community that’s sprung up thanks to a Facebook group for fans of a podcast dedicated to the show, “Buffering the Vampire Slayer.”

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