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.

What is altruism

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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  1. Lisa (mummascribbles)

    August 18, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    I definitely agree with you – to me this is bragging! I get so fed up with things going viral these days! I do love DIY SOS- it totally makes me cry too! Thanks for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday

  2. Rhyming with Wine

    August 16, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    I absolutely agree with you Tracey. I think there’s a difference between feeling the warm and fuzzies and openly going out to seek publicity and recognition for doing a good deed. It’s a lovely act that the couple carried out, but I would agree that their self promotion of it makes it not truly altruistic. Interesting read x

  3. Lydia C. Lee

    August 16, 2017 at 7:15 am

    Interesting. What if someone is doing it and they become famous because other people promote them? I need to think about this more to answer. I’d still give them a pass because they probably weren’t saying ‘aren’t I great?’, they were saying ‘you could do this too and make someones day’….#dreamteam

  4. Alana - Burnished Chaos

    August 12, 2017 at 8:09 am

    Totally agree, reporting it themselves is just so they can shout ‘look at us, aren’t we wonderful?’, nothing altruistic about that. I hate it when people post all over Facebook about the all the amazing things they do for others, the truly altruistic don’t do it for the attention.

  5. Random Musings

    August 11, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    This reminds me of that episode of Friends where Joey and Phoebe had the disagreement about there being no such thing as an unselfish act of kindness.
    I think it depends on the person’s intention. If they do something nice with the intention of getting the warm and fuzzies and that’s there only reason for doing it, then I would argue that although nice, it isn’t altruistic. However, if they do it with the sole intention of making the other person feel better, than maybe it could be.
    Thanks for linking up to #BloggerClubUK 🙂

  6. Sarah - Mud, Cakes and Wine

    August 9, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Agree, it was kind but why then tell everyone about it. We often are kind and do things for others but do not film it or take photos of it to share with the world #bloggerclubuk

  7. The Mummy Bubble

    August 9, 2017 at 6:10 am

    Interesting post, I hadn’t seen this story before. May have to go and look it up #bloggerclubuk

  8. This Mum's Life

    August 8, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    I was actually thinking about this the other day, when I saw one of those videos where a guy took a homeless man for a haircut, then for a meal of his choice, and to buy new clothes. He’d filmed the whole thing, and it actually made me feel quite sick. He was actually quite patronising to the homeless man, and wasn’t particularly talking to him kindly, or trying to find out anything personal about him. He’d clearly done the whole thing just to be applauded on the Internet. I think anyone who does that, is definitely doing it for some other narcissistic gain, and not for an altruistic true act of kindness. I know there’s the argument that it is at least raising awareness for the cause, but there are other ways of raising awareness, than patronising those you’re raising awareness for, by filming you doing something ‘nice’ for them, for your own ends.

    1. hooks_and_dragons

      August 8, 2017 at 6:31 pm

      I saw a similar one recently. The guy gave a homless man $100 and secretly filmed what he did with it. The homeless bloke when to a booze shop and then on to some other homeless people. Turns out he spent the money on food. The guys filming did introduce themselves in the end and explain what they did but it was still partonising x

  9. Kate

    August 7, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    Not altruism in the first case or for that matter for DIY SOS as good for their marketing like so much cause-related marketing but I guess the business wins but so does the beneficiaries so maybe not an ideal thing but a good thing all the same. I have worked in charities a lot and volunteers tend to say they get far more out of it than the people they help but if beneficiaries also get a service out of them then I guess everyone is a winner.

  10. fancy

    August 7, 2017 at 9:41 am

    I love watching those videos about genuine kindness. Even if they are staged, the message is lovely! #bigpinklink

  11. Muffin top mummy

    August 7, 2017 at 9:33 am

    Yep, agree with you – it was lovely of them to leave the tip, but their motives are questionable when it’s them telling the world all about it! I’m much more inclined to be impressed if it’s a genuine act from the heart, rather than from the desire for gratitude & praise. I suppose at least this culture of ‘look how nice I am’ on social media encourages better acts than we’re used to seeing nowadays… #bigpinklink

    1. hooks_and_dragons

      August 7, 2017 at 9:34 am

      Yes that is very true, at least someone does benefit from acts of kindness even if the motivations are all wrong x

  12. jeremy@thirstdyaddy

    August 5, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    I think that it is totally possible to act kindly without expectation of reward, I can only imagine what kind of world it would be if it wasn’t. This couple though, I’ll give them the benefit of kind, grudgingly, but not altruistic

  13. Jan

    August 3, 2017 at 7:27 am

    Totally agree, Tracey. And I see stuff like that all the time. I had an ‘engaging’ debate on a post a while back about Ellen Degeneres. While I have no doubt she is a lovely person (I’ve been a fan for years) I think a lot of the ‘goodness’ displayed on her show is more to do with networks and ratings than genuine altruism. It actually makes me feel a bit queasy. I suppose there’s a bit of a culture difference 😉
    I genuinely hope she does stuff in ‘real life’ that we don’t get to hear about.

    1. hooks_and_dragons

      August 3, 2017 at 11:11 am

      It amazes me that people don’t see that being kind and generous as part of your job isn’t altruism.

  14. Michelle Kellogg

    August 3, 2017 at 2:44 am

    I agree with you Tracey that the couple basically sold their own story online for their own benefit. That’s not at all altruistic. I think people forget what the definition of the word is. Just like they seem to forget what a lot of words means these days.

  15. Heather Keet

    August 3, 2017 at 1:17 am

    I have a relative who does a lot of charity work and after each act of charity, she makes sure to post on Facebook so we all know what she’s doing. Giving money, donating clothing, donating her time to charitable works, etc. All of these get posted on Facebook so we can admire her. She actually went on an attack against me one day saying that I should be using my writing for charity, basically that my blog should be discussing real world problems that need fixing. She said I was being too selfish and that I needed to do more for others. I laughed at her, but she will never know all the things that I do for others. I prefer to keep my charity to myself, bragging about it on Facebook is gross.

    1. hooks_and_dragons

      August 6, 2017 at 7:43 pm

      I have met a few of these type im my time. Some of the most selfish individuals ever although they will never see that in themselves x

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