the truth about altruism

I’m a fan of President Clinton.  While speaking with Stephen Colbert on one March 2013 episode of the Colbert Report, promoting the Clinton Foundation, he explained his motives as being selfish.  He said that if you understand the way the world works, selfless is selfish.  I get it and I agree.  If you understand the way the world works…

You need not be particularly compassionate to understand the importance of giving of yourself.  In the grand scheme, helping others, wanting to make the world a better place is more about your own fulfillment.  It may seem too far-fetched and indirect to make the correlation, but the notion is rudimentary.  We tend to act out of selfishness in more ways than we imagine.  I am speaking of selfishness by definition of the word, as opposed to the exclusively negative connotation that may be throwing you off.  To the extent of risking your life for your offspring, you are acting selfishly.  You instinctively, not consciously, know that your offspring is the continuation of your bloodline, thus, self-preservation manifests by way of saving your offspring.  Of course, we understand that our emotional and intimate attachment plays a role but, again, I’m speaking of basic instincts- the physiological reaction that takes place.  Therefore, back to what President Clinton was explaining: ultimately, it is in your own best interest to make the world around you a better place.

In a more peaceful, progressive, self-sustaining society, there is more potential for leading a successful, productive, fulfilling life.  What we give of ourselves in order to help others is our investment.  The problem seems that no one has patience and that we invest in the intangible world of the stock market rather than, say, the education in failing school districts throughout the country.  We do this because we are thinking of ourselves.  Therein lies the traditional use of the term ‘selfishness’.   Still, it is in our own best interest to make sure that everyone’s needs are met.  For one thing, it would reduce the crime rate.  It is in our best interest to make sure that everyone has access to medical care and is educated about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle.

Hearing politicians complain about the number of people receiving government assistance but then oppose universal health care or cut school budgets, is an example of how disconnected people allow themselves to be.  It’s like how one neighbor’s house can affect the property value of the neighborhood.  Also similar to how one bad apple ruins the bunch, or how a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.  Although his efforts seem idealistic, they are with the understanding that a whole is made from various components and if the whole is to be healthy, so must be the components. To deny masses access to good education and healthcare puts your own safety at risk.  Uneducated and impoverished people are more likely to engage in crime.  Too many unhealthy people drains resources of the able-bodied.  This results in more people in prison, more people dying of preventable illness and more of the nation’s money spent, ultimately, widening the gap between the haves and have-nots. At this point, matters of universal healthcare and better education should not be up for debate.  It is a matter of fact that not having these systems in place is more costly.

Apparently, too many people are too short-sighted, power-hungry and dense to know what’s for their own good.  Man has always been his own worst enemy.  Arms races go on today and, in proposing the greatest threats to the survival of Mankind, scientist do consider Man as one such.  In keeping with the theme of President Clinton, it so happens that it behooves us to be altruistic, even if we have to do so out of selfish reasons.

2 comments on “the truth about altruism

  1. Was chatting about this just a few days ago: selflessness is inherently selfish. No one benefits from chaos. It’s in our own interest to promote others.

    Extremely well put together post.

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