Pay It Forward – Guest Blog by Liz Belilovskaya from Moteevate.com
Is altruism self-serving? If so, is that OK?
Do people want to help other people? It seems like this question should have “yes” as a definitive answer. Yet after observing people on public transportation, in supermarkets, parks and parkways, the more truthful answer is that most people want to help other people…occasionally, if at all. To illustrate this point, let’s try an exercise.
Have you ever encountered the following scene on the subway or some other place? :
A person is casually slumped across two seats with their stretched-out legs occupying another two seats as an elderly person and/or pregnant woman holding multiple bags stand directly in front of them. Add no headphones and blasting music to this considerate individual and you get the idea. You’ve seen it before. We’ve seen it before – many times.
The problem is that we are sensitive to our own feelings, but many of us display little to no sensitivity when it comes to others. Whatever happened to “treat others as you want to be treated”? In other words, whatever happened to compassion or basic courtesy at the very least?
Can our pop-culture be responsible for our carelessness? With how focused it is on the “I”, perhaps the “we” transitioned into an antiquated concept. Many of us ignore opportunities to help others, even when it takes so little for us to make someone’s day. Really, is it such a terrible sacrifice to take up only one seat or to listen to our music with headphones in public? Is it truly too much for us to think about someone else?
Every day we pass by these small-but-multiple opportunities for acts of kindness as we rush to work or to catch a cab. We ignore them and/or roll our eyes when we are asked directly to help. “Please turn down the music, I have a headache” asks the standing person. Even our responses tend to be along the lines of “you can’t tell me what to do.” Why not? Who the hell are you that you can’t be bothered?
We seem to be too damn selfish. Yes, we don’t like hearing that and so we have many responses to that accusation. “How are we expected to help others when no one helps us?” or “What about the other guy? Why won’t he do it?”. Or how about this one, “Someone will help eventually, I just don’t have the time.” If you do not have the time, or I do not have the time, who of “us” will lend a helping hand?
What is altruism? According to Dictionary.com, altruism is defined as the principle or practice of unselfish concern for, or devotion to, the welfare of others. Wikipedia.com goes on to say that altruism is the opposite of selfishness, that it’s even a virtue. It’s not exactly loyalty or duty, it is simply being king for the sake of being kind.
For many of us, altruism is a forgotten or an entirely incomprehensible concept. Wiki elaborates on altruism stating that in its pure form, it’s a sacrifice (big or tiny) made “for someone other than the self with no expectation of any compensation or benefits, either direct, or indirect.” How refreshingly NOT self-serving, or is it?
Most of us feel good when we impact something in a positive way. There are exceptions of course, there always are, but for the most part, we LIKE the good feeling that comes after we help someone. But if doing good makes us feel good, isn’t that saying something. First, why not do it more often, and second, how can the good feeling be considered unselfish?
Think of it like this: Helping someone makes us feel good. Is that selfish? No, not in the slightest! It is a natural effect of not being self-centered and it also leads to increased feelings of personal happiness because we know that we did something good. Happy people can make other people happy. How many unhappy people do you know of capable of spreading joy? Our guess is not many.
So what can we do to be happier and make others happy? We can Pay It Forward until altruism becomes a part of who we are, until we want to help other people.