Issues of altruism and fairness and ego have been at the forefront of a lot of social science / psychology for years, and there’s been numerous articles smarter than this one on the topic of “true altruism” — see here, here and here for examples. The central argument is fairly basic: if you do something good for someone else, but you receive something in return — i.e. a feeling of gratification — is that truly altruistic? Or is the debate around the expectation of the outcome from what you did? If you act in a way that benefits others but you always get something in return, then does the idea of altruism even exist at all?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently for different reasons — part job search, part having time on my hands — and I’m not actually sure anymore that people ever do things for a wholly true reason (i.e. to benefit others, or some less-advantaged group). I may have gotten bitter as I got older, but I just haven’t seen many examples in my own life of people doing things solely for the benefit of others, with no expectation of a reaped return. Jane Goodall once said that we still have a long way to go to realize our human potential for love, compassion and altruism. Would you agree? Do you think altruism in its purest form can actually exist in human beings — and do you think the current socially-connected world, where seemingly everything from a picture of a pint glass to a wedding photo can be an opportunity for self-sharing, has actually lessened the presence of real altruism?
Leave comments if you have any thoughts. It’s just something I’m interested in.