Altruism is when we act to promote someone else’s welfare, even at a risk or cost to ourselves. Scientists speculate that altruism has such deep roots in human nature because helping and cooperation promote the survival of our species. Obviously, altruism is not something we are born with. As infants, the only thing that matters is immediate gratification. This total obsession with self represents the other extreme of true altruism. Throughout our lives, we find ourselves at various points on the spectrum between these two opposites.
As we develop relationships in our lives, we discover a lot about ourselves in relation to self-centeredness and altruism. We are drawn to people who behave in a more altruistic manner. We all want to be around someone who places our interests above their own. Ideally, parents and other close relatives demonstrate altruism in their relationships with us. Parents routinely put the needs of their children ahead of their own. We can all recall friends, teachers, and other significant people in our lives who sacrificially offered themselves and their abilities to help us achieve the things we want in our lives.
What is it that sets someone apart as being more on the side of altruism? Is your first thought in a situation what is going to benefit someone else or you? Are you more interested in what is happening in someone else’s life or in yours?
Another way of determining if we have altruistic motives or not is to ask ourselves what outcomes we look for in the things we face in life. Is it more important to win or to create a win/win scenario for you? Is it more important to you to understand someone else or that they understand you?
Our culture seems to place a high value on being heard and not so much on understanding what other people are saying. There is and always has been a strong need for people who are not only willing to listen to the needs of others but who are willing to put those needs ahead of their own.
As we move forward, it can be helpful to ask ourselves how much we value someone. Are we able and willing to put their wants and needs ahead of our own? When can you remember someone setting aside their own needs and feelings to be sure yours were met? That is true altruism. The world needs that. We can make an incredible difference in someone’s life by putting their needs ahead of our own.
As we move forward, let’s make that our goal whenever possible.