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Strangers Drowning

Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help

By Larissa MacFarquhar
15-minute read
Audio available
Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help by Larissa MacFarquhar

Strangers Drowning (2015) tells the amazing stories of people who decided to put an end to selfish behavior and devote their lives to helping others. Find out what it takes to lead a life of altruism and selflessness, and the price people pay to make a difference in the world.

  • Good samaritans who want to understand their desire to help
  • Cynics who want to be more altruistic
  • Students or business people looking for meaningful work

Larissa Macfarquhar is an editor and writer who has been working for The New Yorker since 1998. She has written many features on famous personalities, including Quentin Tarantino and Diane von Furstenberg. The daughter of diplomats, MacFarquhar lives in New York and Strangers Drowning is her first book.

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Strangers Drowning

Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help

By Larissa MacFarquhar
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help by Larissa MacFarquhar
Synopsis

Strangers Drowning (2015) tells the amazing stories of people who decided to put an end to selfish behavior and devote their lives to helping others. Find out what it takes to lead a life of altruism and selflessness, and the price people pay to make a difference in the world.

Key idea 1 of 9

Altruism is indiscriminate and can be of great benefit to the altruistic person.

What does it mean to be altruistic? Essentially, it means being helpful to others even if it causes you hardship. But it’s more than just taking a minute to help an old lady cross the street or jumping into a lake to prevent someone from drowning.

True altruism means helping others, even if it puts your own life at risk.

And this duty to help extends to all human beings, including your enemies.

Dorothy Granada is one such altruist: in 2010, the 80-year-old nurse opened a clinic in Nicaragua where bloody conflicts were still going on between two opposing political factions, the governing Sandinistas and the rebel militia known as the Contras.

While many of the clinic’s employees believed they should only treat Sandinistas and their families, Granada felt otherwise. Despite the fact that Granada and her staff were close to the Sandanistas, and that healing Contras could lead to the deaths of more Sandanistas, Granada believed that it was her duty as a nurse to help everyone, including wounded Contras, even if this meant that she was putting herself in danger. Granada was truly altruistic.

In fact, helping the enemy can be of great benefit to the altruistic person: one day, a Contra rebel came seeking treatment at Dorothy’s clinic. The rebel had an impassive and scary expression that Dorothy recognized as the face of someone who had tortured and killed. But he also had a bullet lodged in his head and needed help, and Dorothy’s clinic was the only place in the area where he could go.

Indeed, Dorothy healed his wound, and it turned out that being altruistic was the right decision.

Later on, the Contras were planning an assault on the clinic. But the rebel Dorothy had taken care of intervened, sparing the clinic from attack.

It was altruism that ultimately saved the clinic and, perhaps, the life of Dorothy Granada and her staff.

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