The Prairie Doc Perspective

It pays to care

By Richard P. Holm M.D.

Last week I learned of research showing empathy, caring about the other guy, is very important for an individual’s success in life. Evidently it pays to be a caring person. It is interesting to note that these researchers thought compassion for another results in likability, which then in turn brings success.

In contrast a group of psychiatric diagnoses called Personality Disorders are all about the lack of empathy. Of course the whole story is extremely complicated, but to generalize about people with these diagnoses, one can say these individuals have an impaired ability to think about and be considerate of the other guy.

It is believed that another part of the problem is an incorrect self-image and a dysfunctional response to stress. The cause for such trouble is likely a combination of an inherited personality type, and inconsistent or too little discipline as well as too little or too much attention as a child.

To make matters worse, those with a Personality Disorder do not seem to learn from their mistakes or to learn that their behavior is errant, possibly because their self image is so wrong and entirely different from how others see them. When they do seek medical care, they usually want help for secondary problems of depression, anxiety, or alcohol/drug abuse and not because they realize how bad their behavior has been.

This weekend I had the joy of spending time watching my dear cousin’s beautiful grandchildren, and it struck me that a self-centered way of thinking, with anger and fighting, is normal for children; that being considerate of others is something we hopefully grow into as we mature; and that the most mature and self actuated adult even feels the joy of another’s success.

A friend who helps drug addicts and alcoholic men recover, pointed out to me one time that the most important lesson for these impaired men is to help them realize, “it’s not just about you.”

In this sometimes cruel and competitive world, it is nice to see research support for the golden truth that it pays to be a caring person.

Dr. Rick Holm wrote this Prairie Doc Perspective for “On Call®,” a weekly program where medical professionals discuss health concerns for the general public.  “On Call®” is produced by the Healing Words Foundation in association with the South Dakota State University Journalism Department. “On Call®” airs Thursdays on South Dakota Public Broadcasting-Television at 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain. Visit us at 

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