Saturday, February 20, 2010

Is altruism real?

This is a question that I was thinking about and I realised that it is an espectially suitable question now, at the beginning of the lental period. Last Wednesday (Ash Wednesday the beginning of the Lental Period) I went for the evening mass after work, and the preist was discussing the three pillars of Lent, Prayer, Fasting, and acts of goodwill. So I told my self I shall try to actually follow these principles, starting during lent, and maybe would have created a habit by the end of the 40 days and continue...

Then I was just thinking about my own motivations behind these actions of goodwill and realised that it does have a selfish root, it makes me feel good about myself. I think it is also because when I see poor people (specially when I was in Sri Lanka) I would feel guilty for having so much and them so little, so then when I try to be charitable with my time or money, It reduces my distress in witnessing their pain. I enjoy working in the Not-for-Profit sector as it gives me self satisfaction, and I feel like I'm working towards a greater good than my self... Doesn't that sound like a contradtion there?

So I started to read up on this dillema of whether there is such a thing as altruism, and came across this story.

"Abraham Lincoln illustrated the philosophical issue in a conversation with another passenger in a horse-drawn coach. After Lincoln argued that selfishness prompts all good deeds, he noticed a sow making a terrible noise. Her piglets had gotten into a pond and were in danger of drowning. Lincoln called the coach to a halt, jumped out, ran back, and lifted the little pigs to safety. Upon his return, his companion remarked, "Now, Abe, where does selfishness come in on this little episode?" "Why, bless your soul, Ed, that was the very essence of selfishness. I should have no peace of mind all day had I gone and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs.
"Social Psychology" by David Myers, p477

Another interesting quote by Vexen Crabtree on 'Love' considered to be the most giving, unselfish emotion of all

"Love is perhaps the strongest emotion we possess. But love is ultimately selfish; the satisfaction and feel-good that it brings is an ultimate reward. Our instincts and needs underlie any altruistic behaviour, especially when it comes to love. That is part of the beauty of love... that you know your loved one loves you because it makes them feel good. You know that they know your love is selfish, and they are happy that you love them because it makes you feel good. Without this hidden, deeper selfishness, Human love would have less depth. Love is best and most beautiful when it comes from the depths of one person and extends to another, and both know that the other loves them for selfish reasons. We love someone because they make us feel good and they love us because we make them feel good. This combination is a supreme gift to our ego and helps explain why love is easily the most potent emotion."

Being a devout Catholic, these then made me think about religion, what does it mean if all good actually has a selfish root? I believe that God just made us that way so that people would naturally be good, for their own happiness, and for their own survival (though there seems to be bugs in the programming of some people like serial killers!)... After all this thinking and reserach, I still am not much closer to figuring out whether we're all good or all bad, but I will try to continue to be helpful and giving, especially during this lenten period and feel good :)

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Blogger Sujeewa de Silva said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:24 am, February 21, 2010  
Blogger Sujeewa de Silva said...

You certainly have made a good point that many of us just fail to consider. Being good to others may often be our attempt to prove to ourselves that we are decent human beings. Although I am not a Christian, I also agree that our having to settle scores with our self-image this way makes for a better world. If it were not so, this would be a really ugly place where not many people would hesitate to have their way no matter what.

5:26 am, February 21, 2010  
Blogger Anna said...

A fascinating entry! One I am going to ponder over this Lenten period, and probably beyond...

3:37 pm, February 22, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour..............................................

5:29 am, February 24, 2010  

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