Thursday, May 9, 2013

When is it altruism and when is it just showing off?

For Cinco de Mayo I took myself to the Phoenix Art Museum for the last day of an exhibit I was anxious to see, (an article about that will be posted next week on Examiner). As I sat in the cafe, Palette I overheard someone say, "Is it really a good deed if you tell everyone?" I love that question and I have been pondering it ever since.

Then on May 8 Charles Ramsey was interviewed for rescuing 3 missing women, two of whom were missing for 8-10 years and the video quickly went viral but it wasn't only viral because this man was deemed a hero but also because so many people were making fun of him including TMZ who makes its fortune on the misfortune of others... but that's another subject for another day. Here's the video and when you watch it, I'm curious what your thoughts are:

 Altruism has always been a tricky subject for me to wrap my mind around and it didn't help my confusion when I fell for a man who would do nice things for people and then talk about how he believes it's something he should do, almost to the point of bragging. It didn't matter what the opportunity was but when he saw the opportunity to do a good deed he would not only act on it but discuss it after the fact. There were enough moments of genuine goodness and kindness that he offered people to keep me hooked and he always recognized beauty in others and this was a reason I fell for him. The frustration I had with him lied in the distinction between feeling as though an act of kindness should be done based on what could potentially be gained for the act, external influences, societal views, who's watching, etc. or if it was being done because he wanted to offer a genuine compliment or do good solely for the sake of helping someone in need and the joy it brings regardless of whether someone else knows or not, free of expectation of any kind of return on the investment.

By its definition altruism is an unselfish regard for the welfare of others but by its very nature altruism can be so self-fulfilling and so self-nurturing that you want to sing it from the rooftops! Does this in turn make you selfish for enjoying the benefits? I suppose this is where intention comes to play; if someone's initial intention is more for the good of others; to be of service for a greater and higher good, then that is true altruism and the warm fuzzies you get after are an added bonus. The pleasure center of our brain responds the most when something is more pleasant than expected, more Dopamine is released in our brain, so it seems to me that if we practice altruism with little to no expectation we will literally FEEL better then if we do good deeds because we think it will make a good impression on others or we expect to gain something from it; we may still get the Dopamine release but it won't be near the level of pleasure as it would when we limit our expectations. This way we also leave little room for disappointment. I suppose the people who make fun of the happy altruist are the ones who don't truly know the feeling.

I took the volunteer orientation for UMOM and I'm really excited about helping other people who are homeless since I have experienced homelessness. Does my excitement make my intentions any less altruistic if I'm eager to learn more from that environment? I would like to think not, especially since so many people helped me when I was in that same position. What about you? Do you practice regular acts of altruism as a way of nurturing your spirit? Or have you been the recipient of a good deed?


  1. First to answer your questions I needed to look up the defination of altruistic.

    This is what I found~ unselfishly concerned for or devoted to the welfare of others~

    My personal opinion is that there is no reason to not to enjoy /feel good/be excited as you go about being altruistic, these things are not mutally exclusive.
    I DO practice acts of altruism but I never thought of it as a way to nurture my spirit. It is just my small way of "paying it forward" because YES I have benifited from somonelse's altruism.

  2. You defeat yourself in your own argument. You state that the only way to be altruistic is if you have no desire to receive any benefit from the act. Then you discuss someone who does it for a benefit. Then you state that you do it, with a conviction that you won't receive a benefit because you believe this will increase the benefit you receive (in this case the good feeling you get from doing it).
    At no point do you ever truly discuss being truly altruistic. You have taken an idea and kept the title, but changed the intent.
    Altruism is designed to be a sacrifice -- a sacrifice is giving up something of greater value for something of lesser value. It is a loss. Yet you are discussing your gain here.
    Now, other then you calling it something that it isn't -- altruistic versus selfish -- there is nothing wrong with your actions. To be selfish is to be self-interested. You have your interest at heart. This doesn't change the amount of good you are doing for someone, it is only recognizing that you are receiving something for it that you find worthwhile, or in your interest. The good feeling, for you, is payment enough for whatever good deed you decide to do. Other selfish acts would include going to the doctor, hugging your kids, lending your sister money to start a business, as long as you have your interest in mind, and determine that the action is in your self interest (you are giving something of value for something you determine to be of equal or greater value).
    Altruism is by definition a bad thing. It is to be your own destroyer, to discount the value of your life in regards to the lives of others. It is a horrible practice that has been heralded as some moral value, despite the fact that there is nothing moral about it.
    So go out and do the things you want to, because it is in your interest to be happy. You do these things with self-interest in mind and a knowledge that being selfish is not at the expense of others and helping others is not at the expense of yourself.

    1. I didn't realize I was posing an argument since I clearly stated the whole subject confuses me and I shared my perspective and how altruism can clearly contradict itself at times. Thanks for the comment.