"Where does this tenderness come from?" asked the Russian poet Marina Tsvetayeva. Even if you buy that "true" altruism exists, how do we account for it? Is it a special gift, like a green thumb or perfect pitch? A perspective picked up from one parent or a gene cadged from another? The product of a religious epiphany or a life's on-the-job training? Is it taught or caught?

Marc Ian Barasch, Field Notes on the Compassionate Life