All entries for Friday 11 February 2011

February 11, 2011

Does altruism exist?

Writing about empathy or selfishness??? from Thomas's blog

Note to my fellow MBE colleagues, this is not an MBE related blog. This my friends, is just some of my thoughts that a colleagues blog about leadershp and motivation inspired me towards. He was discussing whether or not leaders show care and concern for their followers because they genuinly care about their followers well being or because they expect to see personal benefit and gain through their actions?

This reminded me of a conversation I had with friends awhile back about altruism. For those that haven't come across that term yet altruism is:

"Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness."

Our debate was whether or not altruism actually exists. Strange discussion isn't it? Asking whether or not some people can and do actually act selfless. "Of course they do!" was my enthusiastic reply to them. It's a question of morales and values. There are people who have a resounding belief that doing whats right is more important than personal consequence. Societal and welfare concerns are of great importance to many people. Just look at those who participate in volunteering and charity. Giving up their time for the well being of others and expecting nothing for it in return.

But do they actually get nothing from it in return? Starting with the volunteer example is probably easiest. As someone with many years of experience in being a volunteering event coordinator my honest answer is for many people who have participated in my events, their motivations were less than altruistic. Participation in such events gave them tangible evidence (certificates, thank you notes, etc...) to demonstrate they are a "well rounded individual who cares for the community". A great thing to add on their CV that puts them 1 point ahead in the game of life. While this may be an easy argument against altruism, lets go slightly further. Once again, take an example who gives up free time and money to help other, but this time doesn't receive anything for it and has no motivation to use their actions for any personal benefit in furthering careers, etc... They do it solely for self fulfillment and their desire to help others. But there-in lies a dilema. If morales and beliefs cause an individual to act altruisticly, by untaking these actions you could say they are attaining inner peace. A sense of self-fulfillment by following their beliefs. So are their actions completely selfless? Are they actually acting in their own personal interests because they know that by helping others, they themselves will benefit by gaining a sense of well being.

This type of behvaiour can actually be seen everywhere in life. Acts of claimed altruism are also frequently demonstrating by large organisations, celebrities, and governments in order to achieve prestige and show that they "care". Take for example the farce I like to call children in need, run each year in the UK. Don't get me wrong, I have supported countless charities over the years and I fully support the cause, but I find the whole "celebrity performances" and show a complete and utter demonstration of fake altruism. In 2010 the event raised £18,098,199. A nice big sum you think right? But consider this, Tom Jones (who performed that year) alone has a net worth of £96million. And with 20+ acts, between them the total amount raised is pocket money to these celebrities. And yet year on year they guilt the country in giving more and more. When they could easily donate and double the sums raised between them without denting their bank balance they don't, and continue to fluant the image of altruistic celebrities. I count rant more about this, but I won't for now. For me it does however demonstrate perfectly the fake altruism than can be witnessed eveywhere on a daily basis.

For me, this was a fascinating argument. My ideas of altruism are very blurred and I find it hard to believe that true altruism exists in this world. To me, quasi-altruism seems an easier concept to accept because can self-fulfillment through selflessness be deemed true altruism?

February 2011

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