What’s the Deal with Altruism?

During our break at a philosophy study group in Highbury and Islington the teacher gets a spinning wheel out which has moral keywords on it. Keywords which come from an era where principles of right and wrong behavior were born. When it's my turn, the marker stops at the field of 'altruism'. I am baffled, smile and pretend I know what's going on. 

Why is the wheel stopping at that particular point? It’s not like some programmatic algorithm was following me for days, only to present me the most suitable word. It was just a coincident, right?


The dictionary defines altruism as an ethical doctrine, which sees behavior motivated by a desire to benefit someone other than oneself. If you like to be a super cool human being you have the obligation to help, serve or benefit others. What puzzles me is the fact that one's self-interest is out of the equation. If you help someone for your own happiness, you are not acting in an altruistic way. The difficult and quintessential part is to bring the correct understanding of well-being. What does another person need in a certain situation?

Ok, it seems that the philosophers were trying to get to the heart of helpful behavior. Maybe they were coming from an angle of multiple sunglasses, just like in the above photograph. When many eyes observe a subject, their combined view must reveal a higher degree of truth than only one pair of eyes. Yet, I wonder how one can act morally correct if it's necessary to properly assess another person’s situation. Maybe I think someone is thirsty only to find out he is fasting.

Einstein words pop up, ‘Those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act’. His idea sounds comforting but how on earth can you be sure that you know? Everybody knows something but nobody can know it all.

Another voice pops up, telling me that I often don’t give my gut feeling the attention it deserves (some people would sing a song about that). To make it up, dear feeling nature of myself, I'm sending you a special 'thank you' for helping me out in all those moments where I'm missing facts but still move forward. In the end, we can't always live with absolute proof and 100% correct assessment, I get that.

The point I'd like to make is that I believe the good old virtues were discovered for a reason. I question if we have integrated them fully into our being and like to encourage others to ponder about it as if it would be a new morning routine.

In which situations are you acting in an altruistic manner?

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If you haven't completed your Christmas shopping yet, how about a bit more altruism in one's life?

Motivational Poster by Juniqe

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