There are more than several billion people on the planet, and each one has their own personality, which was partially shaped by the experiences encountered by them in their lives. The trajectory of personal development also correlates with the views on morality and ethics of every individual. In societies worldwide, the act of providing those in need with support and assistance is considered a norm and is encouraged. Yet, the question of to what extent people should help others still remains open. The short story “Shame” by Dick Gregory gives in an insight into the impact of personal experiences on moral values and helps one answer the question of individuals’ obligations to others.
It is clear that a person is influenced by the events they face and ultimately structures their future reactions based on their responses to the previously encountered situations. “Shame” highlights this fact by telling a story of a boy named Richard who struggles at school due to being poor, hungry, and having an abusive environment in the household. Nevertheless, the difficult experiences he has to live through eventually shape his high moral standards and the capacity to empathize even with strangers. When he saw a man being beaten for not paying for his meal at a diner, he offered to pay for him (Gregory 3). This situation shows that despite doing physically exhausting work such as shoe shining all day to earn a living, Richard still is willing to help others. It is possible to assume that his empathy stems from his own experience of facing injustice on numerous occasions, at home, and in school. Researchers discovered that when people observe the suffering of others, their brain triggers their own memories of pain which enables them to generate compassion (Liddle and Shackelford 121). Thus, scientific evidence and the example of Richard clearly indicate that personal development has development can positively affect people’s moral conduct.
The problem of helping others is more complex than it usually seems because it is clear that all people have certain limits of their compassion and willingness to act for the sake of other individuals. There are also cases when people often stop valuing themselves in an attempt to appease another person, especially the one who does not pay any attention to them. At the core of such altruism is always a selfish desire and an objective to receive something in return (Deaux and Snyder 471). Yet, during the process, a person may utilize all of the means available to them, which eventually may lead to a complete disregard for their own interests. Richard also engaged in this kind of selfish altruism by shoveling snow off the walk of the girl he was in love with but who did not reciprocate (Gregory 3). Richard risked his health by wearing wet clothes and left money for her despite staying hungry throughout the day. Going to the extreme for the sake of helping others or making their life better and easier at the expense of personal well-being has to be reserved for only the dearest people in one’s life, such as family members. Therefore, individuals always must maintain a healthy degree of altruism which does not harm their physical and mental health and only produces a positive effect for all parties involved.
“Shame” by Dick Gregory is a short story which can teach the importance of balancing their willingness to help others and demonstrates that personal experience can impact moral behavior. Scientific research, as well as Richard’s situation, show that personal development affects the ability of a person to empathize. While altruism is positive, going to the extreme to help others at the expense of one’s health should be an option used extremely rarely.
Deaux, Kay and Snyder, Mark. The Oxford Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology. Oxford University Press, 2018.
Gregory, Dick. Shame.
Liddle, James and Shackelford, Todd. The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology and Religion. Oxford University Press, 2020.