On Altruism

 

It feels good to do good to others.

 

I believe in the inherent good living within every human being. That when given choices between doing good and evil in a given circumstance humans are more inclined to choose the good one. I may be am too optimistic or even unrealistic amid the evils done by men which include genocides in Darfur, suicide bombing in Afghanistan, gang rape in Maguindanao, Jewish holocaust and horrific massacres. These inhumane acts do not diminish my view on the inherent good of humans. I can still see the good side of a murderer who was put to jail. Though, I should also confess that there were cases, that I asked myself, “Can we just kill them?” referring to those criminals who did barbaric, very inhumane acts. I don’t neglect the capability of humans to do evil due to The Fall, but seeing the evidences, people do a lot of good things compared to bad and unlawful ones.

 

People are generally good.  I say so because I see parents continue taking care of their children, providing them the necessary needs in school. I can see teachers who are passionate in teaching despite the meager salary they receive. It is very natural for my classmates and friends to share their food such as biscuits and banana barbecue, no matter how small it is and how hungry they are. Husbands are working to provide for their families. Even beggars share each others food. These are little acts we sometimes fail to look at because of the normalcy of its occurrence and because the violence, crimes, and corruptions, are given much coverage in media compared to good things.

 

In a different level, it’s very encouraging to see people who selflessly devote themselves to help the poor and the unfortunate. YFC volunteers help build houses in a GK site. Efren Peǹaflorida, with his dynamic teens, tirelessly travels from one town to another to teach children basic education through his school in a “Kariton”. There are nuns somewhere in Palawan who take care of people who were inflicted by leprosy. There are barrio doctors who continually render their services, and decline the tempting offer to go out abroad for a much bigger income. There are UP-graduate-missionaries living in Sarangani who do not just share the gospel, but teach people how to earn a living and make a life. They could have chosen a different career with a lucrative income, but they did not. They choose to live among the poor and the lowly, living a simple life, and help transform the community. We can hear every now and then stories of well-educated rich and promising persons who decided to “waste” their lives helping the poor, the discriminated and marginalized of our society. Why are they doing these altruistic acts makes me wonder?

 

“Altruism refers to helping behavior that is beneficial to others but requires clear self-sacrifice on the part of the helper.”[i] It has two elements. First, it should help others. Second, there should be self-sacrifice, which means you lose a part of yourself may it be in the form of time, effort, identity, money, and opportunities.

 

The stories mentioned above are forms of altruism. This is opposite of selfishness, which puts self-interests above all. There is a question raised on altruism: is there any altruism that is pure? What are the motives why people do good things? Is it not because they feel good that they are doing it? Isn’t feeling good for the good thing you’ve done self-directed, hence a selfish motive? Some skeptics argue that these people help others to feed their ego and desire to help. They are trying to better things, being happy of what they do, on which the poor and unfortunate are the lucky commodities. Isn’t this a form of selfishness on which altruism is the means?

 

“It remains and open question whether there is such a thing as genuinely altruistic relation to one’s fellowmen, in which the gratification of one’s own instinct plays no part at all, even in some displaced and sublimated form”, said Anna Freud, an  Austrian-British psychoanalyst and daughter of Sigmund Freud.

 

Dorothy Day, one of the most altruistic lives in the century, replied when asked about her motives and purposes: “We reach out to help others as a statement of our own need for help. We are all beggars and sinners. We are all in more jeopardy than we dare acknowledge. When I offer bread to the hungry, I am feeding my soul’s hunger—its ‘long loneliness’ I once called it! When I offer clothes to those who lack them, I am making myself feel more protected from the nakedness of so many moments—when we feel that nothing is between us and the devil! When I offer someone a place to stay, I am reminding myself how homeless we all are—unsure on many mornings or evenings, of where we belong in God’s eyes.”[ii]

 

It reminds me to be humble when I do good to others. There’s always that temptation to think highly of myself and to take pride of what I’ve done. Narcissism is just around the corner waiting to be acknowledged anytime the ego concedes. “We are all beggars and sinners”. Being a sinner opens up for God’s grace. God should be the center of my altruism; otherwise, giving in to selfishness is imminent.

 

I’ve noticed that those who do good, giving themselves for the less fortunate are happy people amid the difficulties. They find fulfillment in what they are doing. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”[iii] Somehow this is true to them.

 

Albert Schweitzer, a theologian, philosopher, musicologist, and a missionary doctor in Africa said on helping others: “I don’t know what your destiny will be but one thing I know: the only once among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[i] Social Psychology: Theories, Research, Applications by Robert S. Feldman

[ii] The Moral Life of Children by Robert Coles

[iii] Matthew 10:39 (NIV)

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About bagoy

This is a personal blog of Bagoy. He lives in a peaceful community of Barangay Banate, province of Sarangani, Philippines. He loves to play POG with his nephews.
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