Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Soup Kitchen

The first scenario I have of altruism comes from volunteering one’s time to a noble cause or organization.

In my time at college, I have begun to see the value and benefit to volunteering in various ways. For example, volunteering at a soup kitchen can be a meaningful experience because it allows you to serve a cause (feeding the hungry) that you support through personal hands-on experience. In this experience, you also meet and network with people you might not normally have an opportunity to, being that both the patrons you are serving and co-volunteers. In this soup kitchen scenario, one might work for a few hours serving food to those in need or preparing a dish to be served. You do these tasks without any expectation of a wage, a gift, or even gratitude from those you are helping. By definition you are engaging in altruistic behavior, because you are sacrificing the commodity of time without any expectation of a return.

But let's try to dig a bit deeper at this.

You (the volunteer) are helping those in need, as you are not one in need and therefore are able to lend your needed services to other people. It is certainly noble for you to put in time and effort to such a worthy cause, but as a participant in this soup kitchen, you also leave satisfied at the end of the day. Here is why. By serving those in need and accomplishing your job in a much needed role, you walk away feeling happy with yourself because you accomplished something and performed a task where people were satisfied and ultimately grateful for your time and effort. Additionally, your altruistic effort of volunteering was rewarded by gratification and a feeling of personal accomplishment. This reward, whether foreseen or not, causes the pure altruistic character of the voluntary act to be null, as it is no longer selfless. Simply put, your gained from your sacrifice, and your self interests were appeased. The voluntary act has lost its selfish nature, for potentially unavoidable reasons.

I have two other scenarios of altruism that I will share in a later post. One point I would like to make however, is that altruism and the accomplishment of good deeds are not mutually exclusive... far from it. The fact that a person may have the intention of gaining from a seemingly altruistic act, does not make that act less valid. For example, if the volunteer at the kitchen knew that they would be satisfied from their sacrificed time, and gain social capital from their experience, that does not disqualify the act as being an upstanding act. After all, the kitchen and the people it serves benefitted from the time spent.

Thanks for reading. More scenarios to come.


Friday, July 29, 2011

The Limitations of Altruism

I have recently been trying to make a more intentional effort of tithing and sharing the gifts I have received with others. When performing these seemingly noble deeds, I never have the expectation of receiving something in return, but am often aware of an unavoidable sense of satisfaction I get from making this self sacrifice. This realization has set me on the path of considering the ideals of altruism, or better yet, the limitations of it.

By definition, altruism is the "selfless concern for the well-being of others." When considering this, one might see my acts of charity (a check here, a check there) to be altruistic in nature; after all, I am sacrificing a piece of my own money for the betterment of others. I have realized however, that this logical belief is flawed, and charity or self sacrifice does not equate to pure altruism. In my personal experience as a Christian, there are a number of factors that contribute-to or inspire my charity. These ulterior motives are what cause me to call into question the actual purity in altruistic behavior, or lack their of. To best explore this topic I will put altruism in three different contexts, volunteerism, monetary donations, and the ultimate personal sacrifice. As to not overwhelm you in one post, I will construct these different scenarios over the next few weeks. Hopefully this prelude whetted your intellectual appetite for the future posts...