Why we say bad things about people who do good things
Why is there this persistent myth that those who do good things are boring, annoying or even morally questionable?
This paradox has a long history, and has been given a new lease-of-life via the internet, with the derogatory term “Social Justice Warrior.” Do-gooders have long been met with resentment, suspicion and hostility. Feelings which manifest as people inferring ulterior motives for altruistic actions, implying real or imagined hypocrisy or attacking do-gooders on unrelated dimensions.
“Do-gooders are seen as deviant rule breakers. It’s as if they’re giving away Monopoly money so someone can stay in the game, irking other players no end,” explains social psychologist Craig Parks, of Washington State University, who is the author of one such study.
Washington State University linguistics major and Spokane native Ava Beck will study at Aberystwyth University in Wales for three weeks this summer, thanks to a Fulbright Summer Institute to the U.K. award.
Beck is one of around 60 U.S. students selected to undertake short academic and cultural programs at any of nine hosting institutions throughout the United Kingdom. At Aberystwyth, on that country’s western coast, Beck will join fellow Americans exploring contemporary issues in identity and nationhood “through the lens of Wales.” She will attend classes in the university’s Dept. of International Politics, explore the city, visit the National Library of Wales, and learn a bit of the Welsh language.
“I am eager to learn and study during the experience and apply that knowledge to my future studies,” Beck said. “But I am also eager to just experience a new place and culture. I hope to grow in obvious and subtle ways and to bring this experience back with me to share with my peers as well as those I am closest to. It really is an exciting opportunity.”
The aspiring speech language therapist chose to apply to the Aberystwyth program for two reasons. She is interested that Wales is striving toward bilingualism in English and Welsh. Plus, she believes her academic area of interest—linguistics, or the study of the nature and structure of human language—is “irrefutably connected” to the summer themes of identity and culture.
Noel Vest’s goal was to go to community college to earn a degree as a chemical dependency counselor when he walked out the doors of a Nevada prison on June 28, 2009.
Other than hard labor, it was the only career he thought was possible for a formerly incarcerated person.
Almost a decade later Vest is about to graduate from Washington State University with a PhD in psychology and start the next chapter of his life as a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University.
“Never in a million years would I have dreamed I’d be where I am today,” Vest said. “There’s a lot to be said about finding what drives you and for me that has been pursuing a career in higher education. It gave me the direction and motivation I needed to turn my life around.”
This June, Vest will move to Palo Alto to begin working with Keith Humphries, professor of psychiatry at Stanford and one of the world’s foremost experts in the prevention and treatment of addictive disorders.
The term “precrastination” is defined as the tendency to tackle subgoals at the earliest opportunity — even at the expense of extra effort.
In a study from 2018, led by Lisa Fournier, a professor of psychology at Washington State University, subjects were tasked with retrieving two buckets of balls. One was 6 to 12 feet in front of them, and the other was another 6 to 10 feet farther. Eighty percent of the subjects picked up the first bucket, carried it with them all the way to the second one, and then carried both back to the starting point.
“We tend to start with the task that can be done as soon as possible,” Dr. Fournier said.
Indeed, the longer your to-do list is, the likelier you are to precrastinate. To drive this point home, Dr. Fournier and her co-authors had some of the study participants increase their mental load by asking them to memorize a list of numbers that they would have to recall after retrieving the balls. The result: The percentage of precrastinators went up to 90.
What’s so hard about not jumping the gun?
One explanation is evolution. If you don’t grab the low-hanging fruit now, it might not be there later. You could run out of time to complete a task, or forget about it altogether. Carpe diem, right?
“I actually interrupt people a lot because otherwise I’m afraid I won’t remember what I was going to say,” Dr. Fournier said.
Amy Nusbaum learned from a recent study that a significant amount of college students don’t get enough to eat, so she decided to set up a mini food bank.
“This is a thing I can do right now that’ll help the students right now. And it doesn’t need to be like a huge thing, it’s a mailbox outside of my office, that for most of the last few months I’ve just been buying stuff as it runs out,” said Nusbaum, a doctoral candidate in psychology.
She started to run out of food, but before she made another order to Amazon, she wanted to give others an opportunity to contribute as well.
“You know, I interact with a lot of people on social media who are interested in these things and maybe don’t know how to help — and the cougar community is so incredible,” she said.
She posted on social media with a link to her Amazon wish list, asking people to donate to the food bank. She was overwhelmed by the response.
Just a few days later, Nusbaum came home to about 20 Amazon boxes on her doorstep.