What Is Altruism?
Hello readers. The other day when I was scrolling through Facebook I saw a story that was being shared as a wonderful example of how kind and altruistic people can be.
The story ( click here to read it) focussed on a couple in america. They had gone out to dinner in a restaurant one evening. The restaurant was very busy that night and they had very slow service from their waiter. At the end of the dinner rather than complaining about the poor service, they left their waiter a very large top, $100. This was a really kind thing to do and the waiter no doubt was very grateful for the money.
The story was picked up on Facebook and went viral as an example of altruistic behaviour. However I personally don’t think it did count as altruism.
Why wasn’t their behaviour altruistic?
This is a definition of altruism that I found online.
The attitude of caring about others and doing acts that help them although you do not get anything by doing those acts.
When looking at the behaviour of the couple it can be said that giving money was generous and they didn’t get any immediate benefit from doing it, so it was altruistic right?
Well no. In order to judge the story and therefore the behaviour it is necessary to look at where the story originated from. If it had been reported by another diner in the restaurant that night or by the waiter themselves then I would have agreed that it was an altruistic act.
But that was not the case. The couple themselves reported the story. They even took photos of their paid bill as evidence of just how generous they had been. Therefore they were benefitting from the way they behaved, by getting their 15 minutes of fame on the internet.
It is debatable whether they decided to do this prior to going to the restaurant or decided after they had given the huge tip that they should tell the world about it. Either way their act although generous was definitely not altruistic.
Are there better examples of altruism online?
If you look online there are examples of people being kind and generous everywhere. Most commonly the media will report of famous people who donate their time or money for special causes. I can be a rather cynical
bitch person when it comes to famous people trying to be altruistic. Because in a similar way that the couple in the Facebook story gained from telling their story online, when a famous person does charity work and the media reports on it, they benefit from all the publicity.
So people can’t be altruistic if what they are doing becomes public?
I think the answer to this question goes back to the issue of how these stories become public. If any person,or someone connected to them tells the story with the intention of benefitting that person then it isn’t altruism at work. However sometimes people tell tales of others altruism just because they want others to know how kind people can be.
A wonderful example of this are the stories that came out when the legend George Michael died. He was according to the stories a very kind generous man who did many things for the benefit of others rather than personal gain. I think he was proper altruist.
So true altruism does exist?
I believe it does. It happens in big and small ways every day. I was watching telly earlier, DIY SOS. That is a brilliant program (that always makes me cry). The tradesmen who give their time and skills to help transform other people’s homes and lives are true altruists. Yes, they may get their mugs on telly if the camera is facing the right way, but their only real reward was the good feeling they got for doing something good for someone else.
Even on the internet I see proper altruistic acts too. A little while ago I was contacted by some people to make a birthday present for a mutual twitter friend of ours. They asked me to keep their identity secret. I didn’t naming the senders. I just told the recipient that it was sent with love and good wishes from their online friends.
There are some people who would argue that the warm fuzzy feeling people get from helping others is in itself a reward and therefore no act can be 100% altruistic. However I don’t subscribe to that chain of thought. I think these are wonderful acts of altruism and they inspire me to be more altruistic.
What do you think about the Facebook couples act of altruism? Do you think its possible to do an act of kindness for no reward?
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