Altruism is a lie. Well, it isn’t exactly a lie, but the idea of selflessness is. Altruism and selflessness are generally used interchangeably, but the only part that truly can exist is the concern for the welfare of others. There is nothing done that is definitively done at your own expense, because no one does anything without at least a subconscious measuring process taking place. In short, we do things for one of two reasons: because to do so makes us feel good (or better than not doing so), or because to not do so makes us feel bad (or worse than not doing so).
Think about it. When you are presented with a choice, you might not consider all the factors that play into each option. You still do consider enough however to make a decision based on what you know at the time. To illustrate this, I’ll drop a few examples on you.
Let’s say you run across someone who is injured. You can either do something to help them, or you can be about your way and do nothing. If you choose to do nothing, because you are busy, or worried they might sue, or whatever – you are certainly thinking about yourself more than the other person. As such, I don’t need to go into detail to show that such an action is inherently selfish. If you choose to do something about it, even just calling 911 or someone else for help, you are still doing so selfishly. You don’t simply think “that person needs help”. What is really going on in your head is more like “I have to help them” or “I have to find someone to help them”. Why is that distinction important? The answer is motive. Why do you “have” to help them? Because you will feel like you did something good? Because you will feel like a douche if you don’t? Because no one else is willing to and you don’t want to be one of the people who didn’t? Because you don’t want to be the one person who didn’t? All of those reasons are selfish.
How about if you have a sandwich and you see some starving person eyeballing it like they haven’t seen food in months. You could choose to keep it. Maybe they aren’t your problem, or it’s someone else’s responsibility, or whatever – but the bottom line is you want that sandwich more than you want to give it away. Perhaps you give them the sandwich instead. Why? Because you would feel bad for letting someone starve when you can help? Because helping them would be your good deed for the day? Because it is the right thing to do? Why is it the right thing to do? Because your religion says so and you want to go to heaven or want your deity to be happy with you? None of those are selfless reasons.
How about with children? That has to be selfless, right? Wrong. You do things for your children because you want them to be healthy, happy, successful, etc. – but why do you want those things? Because you want to have been a good parent? You don’t want to be a better parent than yours were? You want them to have the things you didn’t have? These sound selfless up front, but think about why you want or don’t want those things. You want to be a good parent? That’s about you. Sure, it benefits your child(ren), but it is a selfish reason.
Now, if we really are all selfish, is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Some selfishness benefits others – charity, taking good care of your kids, helping an injured person. These are all good things that are done for inherently selfish reasons. If you are benefiting others, does it really matter what your reasons are? Should you care what the reasons are for someone else helping you, as long as you are benefitting and they aren’t just setting you up for something bad?
Basically, it doesn’t matter. If you see some company doing something positive, and think, “that’s just to improve their image”, so what? They are still doing something positive, are they not?
Anyway, that’s all the time I have right now – I was going to add something about prayer (which inspired me to write this today regardless), but I will do a separate post touching on that. I had read something in the CNN Belief Blogs where some folks were ripping on prayer, and I don’t feel that’s very fair. Expect a post about that sometime soon. Til then, enjoy the food for thought.