One of my final courses during undergraduate studies was Philosophy of Religion. I figured I’d enjoy the class because I found the notion of religion fascinating.
I imagined regular colloquies about religion, its birth and demise.
While what I envisioned about the class was correct; I learned I disliked philosophy.
I prefer consistency and concreteness over general ideas and precepts. I wanted answers and found myself frustrated by the waxing and waning of things floating around our collective minds.
It took a while, but I finally understood: there would not be any answers because our mission was to examine concepts and beliefs;
there would not be any answers because our philosophies reflected our individual human experiences.
One afternoon we were instructed to ponder whether altruism existed. Some posited altruism could not exist because humans were selfishly motivated to commit acts of generosity. Others were unable to fathom doing things for others out of pure kindness. They believed humans to be motivated by reciprocity, and feeling good about doing good negated altruism.
I took a moment to assess my own motives.
Do I feel good when helping others?
I help others because I believe we are all connected. When I see someone who needs help; I see that I could need help and I would want someone to help me.
Who cares if one feels marvelous when aiding others?
The point is, you are helping others. Those inclined toward altruism feel an obligation to alleviate suffering and further the pleasure of others.
I think about helping people a lot and decided to ask a few others about their thoughts and feelings.
Me: What do you think about altruism?
Deborah: It appears that altruism exists to aide in keeping balance. When I think about altruism, I think about certain cultures and true monks. There are also people in third world countries that are very giving and living in harmony.
Me: So in your view it exists?
Me: What are your thoughts about altruism?
Nicole: As in do I think its good, or does it exist or. . .?
Me: Yes. Both.
Nicole: I think it can be good. Shit, if more people were altruistic, I think a lot of situations would be better. But, there are times where altruism may be the good thing but not the right thing.
Me: When is it not good to be altruistic?
Nicole: Altruism isn’t always the best practice when doing a disservice to yourself or when bettering someone else has negative consequences on others. Its not a good example, but someone giving away their last dollar to a starving individual, but then the altruistic person no longer has enough food for himself or his family. Sure it was good to help that hungry person, but now, not only are you affected, but also your wife and kids are hungry too.
Me: What do you think about altruism?
Michael: I think selflessness is what makes the world go round… Especially with leadership and management, because it increases morale and production. Putting your people first… Also, I think we are born with it, but cultures and upbringing effects personalities. Have you ever noticed, if you give animals food the alpha males will eat first, but still share… Even if you give a homeless person a ton of money they typically will share it with their homeless friends.
Me: What do you think about the idea of altruism?
DJ: I believe Altruism has something to do with doing good or being selfless. Fairness etc. So having said that I’m curious as to whether there is another way to look at it,other than its kinda morally and ethically right.
Me: It Seems to be individualized in that aspect.
DJ: I guess its an individual trait but just think; many have hoped to see it one day as a societal norm or something to strive towards.
Me: It would be a nice norm. I wonder if it’s the norm anywhere on planet.
DJ: Ha ha. Maybe in convents or temples. I just looked it up and glad to see I was on the right track. The kind of work we both have persued comes indirectly from that altruistic kind of spirit or I should say internal sense of doing something for others. ….in a small way helping to make the world a better place.
Me: Why do you think you wanted to work with youth?
DJ: It was an extension of things I had gotten involved in. We were pretty idealistic back in the day. Black Panther Party….turned out to be too crazy. Nation of Islam….crazy in a different way but nicer clothes. I tried them because I wanted to be involved in something that worked for change in our community.
Me: What organization were the kids affiliated with?
DJ: Initially, New Life. On the lower east side [Manhattan]. But over the years I’ve been involved with a lot of different community based organizations.
Me: Had it been rewarding? You’ve done it forever.
DJ: Definately rewarding. Martial arts at its roots is rewarding, but like any coach we end up helping to steer our kids through lifes obstacles. But from a purely martial arts perspective I never really could see myself being able to consistently turn out good students the way I have and now I am kind of at the top of my game and thinking of building teams as well as good individual students. All the previous years and kids I’ve taught prepared me for this current group which will be one of my best teams ever.
Me: What are your thoughts on altruism?
Tony: That’s me to an extent. . .short of sacrificing life. I personally spread myself too thin with generosity especially with my wood business. I donate a lot of it and sell more cheaper than I acquired it.
Me: Do you feel resentful when you spread yourself too thin?
Tony: Not so much resentful. But stressed because I feel like I have to do it.
Me: What happens if you don’t?
Tony: I feel guilty, but rarely do I not follow through.
Me: Are you generous with your wood because it’s a hobby to attain it?
Tony: Partly, but more so because I know there are a lot of older folks out there that don’t have the resources to acquire the wood needed for heat. I also feel God has blessed me, so I feel somewhat obligated to assist others. I use discretion: like if I know older folks that need wood can’t afford it, but have a few abled body kids, I factor that in.
Me:When I asked you about your purpose in life, you said “wood.” It is clear how you use what you enjoy to help others.
Tony: Interesting observation. I hadn’t thought about it that way.