Is Altruism Part of Human Nature?
The concept of altruism has been around for a long time and the debate on its existence has been for almost as long in both philosophical and psychological circles. Altruism has been defined by Batson et.al (1981): the motivation that arises within an individual to help another in distress, from the desires to reduce the others distress. Some have argued that true altruism does not exist.
Those believe that every act of kindness us humans commit has an underlying alterative motive: we help others to help ourselves.
This is known as egoistic; and current theories regarding its existence of altruism tend to be egoistic that everything we do is directed towards one end state goal, and that benefiting ourselves. Benefiting ourselves does not necessarily entail gaining something in return for preforming the act, but merely reducing our own personal distress (guilt, shock, fear) was a result of seeing another in distress and by helping the other person by reducing their stress is not an act of altruism but echoism as reducing their distress reduced their own distress.
Matthieu Ricard states, “So we humans have an extraordinary potential for goodness, but also an immense power to do harm. Any tool can be used to build or to destroy. That all depends on our motivation. Therefore, it is all the more important to foster an altruistic motivation rather than a selfish one.” Youtube 0:11 I like to think that most people will choose to do good rather than evil.
I am a single mom with three kids and about 18 months ago I had a sudden illness that caused me to be rushed to the hospital and have surgery to remove an infection that could have taken my life.
I was on a ventilator for 20 days and was in a coma almost 7 weeks. The doctors had given me less than 30% chance to survive as I had coded on the operating table. My family and friends were at the hospital to be there for me. In the first week, we had people call and pay for a motel room right there by the hospital so family could go shower or take a nap and just rest away from the hospital.
Someone set up a charge account at a local gas station so my kids could get gas for their vehicles for all the trips back and forth to Little Rock. Someone opened a bank account where anyone could go to the bank and deposit money in my name to help with whatever was needed. Then they had a benefit meal and auction to raise money to help with my bills or whatever it was that me or my kids needed. People were sending me cards with checks in them. The benefit alone raised $18,500. I say all of this to say, people all did this out of the kindness of their hearts. Just to help me and my family, there was no reward, no incentive to give money. It was all given to help me, which I believe an altruistic motivation.
Another thing that comes to mind, is the tornado that came through Arkadelphia on March 1, 1997. That tornado killed six people, wiped out much of downtown, many homes and lives were destroyed. One of the first things I noticed, was people helping people. People worked many hours without stopping, all for the good of others. Another view of altruistic motivation.
In our YouTube video, at 14:31. Ricard states.
“But on a global level, what can we do? We need three things. Enhancing cooperation: Cooperative learning in the school instead of competitive learning. Un conditional cooperation with corporations—there can be some competition between corporations, but not within. We need sustainable harmony. I love that term. Not sustainable growth anymore. Sustainable harmony means now we will reduce inequality.
In the future, we do more with less, and we continue to grow qualitatively, not quantitatively. We need caring economics. The Homo economics cannot deal with poverty in the midst of plenty, cannot deal with the problem of the common goods of the atmosphere, of the oceans. We need caring economics. If the economics should be compassionate, they say, “That’s not our job.” But if you say they don’t care, that looks bad. We need local commitment, global responsibility. We need to extend altruism to the other 1.6 million species. Setient beings are co-citizens in this world and we need to dare altruism.”
After hearing him talk it seems that one of the big things we all need is harmony and change. We can all change, one person influences another, and then we can start to change culturally, this is the way we can achieve a more altruistic society.