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Culture & Religion

Does War Bring out the Worst in Us?

How likely are you to help a stranger? What if you were in a war zone? If you think that the desperation of conflict really brings out the worst in people, you might be surprised.
If you were caught in a war zone, how many strangers would help you?

We often think that wars destroy the fabric of societies, and that major conflicts shatter the trust between people as they fight for survival. It seems intuitive that, as the chaos of war spreads, people will largely mistrust one another and remain on guard against strangers.

But the surprising truth is that people in the most war-torn societies are among those most likely to have helped someone they don’t know. According to the recent study by the CAF World Giving Index, some of the societies currently caught in the pangs of violence are actually those in which the most number of people have helped a stranger over the past 12 months.

In fact, three out of the top five countries in which people reported having helped a stranger are Iraq (#1, 81%), Libya (#2, 79%), and Somalia (#4, 77%), and they are all in a state of unfortunate and protracted civil conflict.

Both Iraq and Libya have witnessed immense strife in recent years, and despite this, four out of every five people report having helped at least one person who they didn’t know, in just the past year. Most surprising of all perhaps is that even after a civil war has raged for more than 25 years, which is to say, for more than a generation, a staggering 77% of Somalis report having helped a stranger over the past year.

Even in the desperation of conflict, strangers often can and do help one another. ABD DOUMANY/AFP/Getty Images

The evidence from the World Giving Index seems incredible because it challenges a basic preconception that we have about war – that it brings out the worst in us. Instead, the suffering of war can actually drive even unfamiliar people to help one another, and compel strangers to work together even in the direst of circumstances.

Perhaps an equally intriguing question is why more stable societies, largely spared the ravages of violence, are so comparatively disinclined to help strangers.

Around the world, more people are helping strangers than ever before. ABD DOUMANY/AFP/Getty Images.

According the World Giving Index, the measurement of “Helping a stranger over the past year”, is one of the three “giving” behaviors that measure the generosity of any society. Aside from assisting strangers, donating money and volunteering are the two other metrics that the index measures.

Even as we continue to hear of the dire plight of people around the world, a shining cause for hope, according to the index, is that more people worldwide are helping strangers than ever before.


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