Paradox Altruism

“In giving we receive” is a paradox, at least in Western culture.  Many Americans live by the dollar.  It determines their value; the dollar is almost worshiped.  They never have enough of it and are always looking for ways to make more.  Some Americans, that is.  But not all of them.

Other Americans are altruistic – even from childhood.  In elementary school, they share, they befriend, they encourage and console.  Altruistic children usually grow into altruistic adults.

It goes against the grain to help others before yourself, since humans – untaught – are fairly hedonistic.  But how do you justify all that you have when others have nothing?  You either seal yourself off from the needs and suffering of others or you step in and help.  In helping it restores some of your faith in mankind.

Humans were never intended to live in isolation; they were meant to live in community – to give and to receive.  There is ample opportunity for both.  There are people who feed the unemployed, and there are others who rescue dogs and cats and find them loving homes.  There are child advocates and there are people who protect the interests of the elderly. 

Many social scientists believe that there is an actual altruistic personality.  In giving himself away to others, the altruist is actually defining himself as empathic and compassionate.  In helping others he is refining his perception of self.  His caring behaviors end up enhancing his individuality. 

Another theory on the paradox of altruism is that the genes of altruism are shared in families and passed on to future generations. 

The third and final theory on the paradox of altruism is that caring behaviors are often reciprocated.  It’s the “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality.

In order for society to remain fully functional, there must be a certain number of people who have an unselfish regard for and a devotion to the welfare of others.  Compassion, empathy, and altruism are similar traits that distinguish humans from the animals. 

The basic principle of altruism is that no person has the right to exist for his own sake and that service to others is justification of his existence.  Taken to its natural end, you could say that the self is inherently bad and that selflessness is inherently good.  Today’s society puts it somewhere in the middle, where engaging in altruism is optional, rather than the rule.

Depending on what level you are attempting to process the concept of altruism, it is a paradox.  It is widely believed and reinforced though experience that in giving you receive.  And this is a paradox.