Why do I do it? Well, because it makes me feel good! It makes me feel good to know that I may have made someone else's day. That doesn't really make me special. We are pack animals. We crave companionship, even if some need it more than others. We all strive to a certain degree to make other people happy, and in turn we are fulfilling our own needs. Does that make what I do altruistic?
Those things are a small example. I go a little out of my way, but it only takes me a minute to write a note to my quad mates. What about people who not only go out of their way to do something kind, but put themselves at risk with absolutely no promised reward? Irena Sendler created an entire underground system that would eventually save the lives of 2500 children in German-occupied Warsaw. She underwent severe torture including the breaking of her legs. She revealed nothing
In the long run she has benefited greatly from her work. She has received awards, plays and movies honor her work, and if you follow the link on her name, you can be a part of the legacy she has left behind. She died happily at 98 years old. But there was no way that she could foresee all of that. There were better chances that she would die for the sake of her mission. Why did she do it? Most would say altruism. But was it altruism? When asked why she did it, she would say that she had to. She could not sit by and do nothing. To me this represents an incredible awareness of the compassion she possessed. Irena Sendler had an incredibly well-developed sense of compassion.
She could not live with herself if she did nothing. So, in a sense, she did what she did for herself. Which isn't altruism by certain standards. But it's nearly impossible to act upon your compassion and get nothing out of it.
So here's where it turns into semantics. Does altruism really have to mean one expects nothing from their acts of kindness? Or can altruism include abstract reward? Because I'm not sure altruism exists at all if a person can receive nothing from their compassion. I like to think of myself as altruistic in at least my happy notes and candy. I feel strongly that Irena Sendler was altruistic, and we can argue that all we want, but we'd really be arguing the definition of altruism.
But here's the better question: Why does it matter? Who cares if I get something out of doing something nice for someone else? If a thank you note makes me smile, does that discredit what I've done for someone? I don't think so. I think we need a greater spirit of altruism in our culture. My professor just talked about making charity work tax deductible as a cause for greed. I don't disagree with that. (Doesn't mean I won't claim my deductions for the crap load of community service hours I get in.) But I would do it if I didn't get a tax deduction. But I'm not so sure everyone would. We all have a great potential for compassion. For some people it's harder to find and develop than others. A lot of factors go into that. But compassion is in all of us.
When you do good things for the world, you are creating a better world in which you can live.
In the comments tell me about a random act of kindness you've experienced.