I learnt that altruism is helping people in need without any selfish concern. That, when you help someone, and you do not get any direct benefit out of it, you are altruistic.
According to Wikipedia, “Altruism or selflessness is the principle or practise of concern for the welfare for others.”
This definition pretty much explains everything. But there is this one thing:
Can we ever be selfless?
I mean, in some or the other way, everything we do somehow comes back to what we get out of it. Giving someone gifts for their birthday so they do the same for our birthday. Lending someone money so we can ask them when we need some.
This thought actually puzzled me; so many times, I have lent my notes to another person without really asking for anything. Did that mean I was altruistic? After thinking for a while, I realised that after the person successfully wrote his/her exam, he/she would come to me and to thank me with a nice treat. So there it was! Selfishness behind selflessness.
That could not be completely true, maybe that was a complete chance, because I hadn’t really asked that person for anything in return. But then, we should also consider that helping behaviour might not just be for getting materialistic benefits, but also for the inner satisfaction, the happiness we get by helping others. Every time we help someone in need, we have this spring in our steps and we find ourselves worthy of this incredible gift of life.
This also brings in another thought; is the concept of helping behaviour, or prosocial behaviour limited to just humans?
According to an article by Sadie F. Dingfelder (Altruism: an accident of nature?), some animals, like bats and bees, usually help one another. But underneath all this, there is a hidden agenda.
Bernd Heinrich, a biology professor at the University of Vermont, happened to come across a group of ravens who were feeding on a dead moose. One of the birds called out loudly to other ravens, so they can come and feed on the moose. This behaviour surprised him, and he conducted further studies which he published in his book “Ravens in Winter”. (Simon and Schuster, 1989)
But it was later found that this act had selfish reasons. These ravens were juveniles who had found the moose in a mature raven’s territory. They were calling the other ravens to avoid being chased away by the bird who held the territory.
Jeff Stevens, a psychology professor at the Max Plank Institute for Human Development in Germany, notes that for any behaviour to survive natural selection, it needs to help an animal or his genetic material. (Sadie F. Dingfelder, 2006)
This reminds me of an episode of Friends, where Phoebe and Joey argue if anyone can ever do a ‘selfless good deed’. Phoebe tries many ways to figure out a selfless good deed but fails every time.
Maybe Altruism exists, but in very specified and rare situations, something that I haven’t yet come across.
So did you ever do a selfless good deed? Well, you might want to think again!