Altruism? Bah!

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “It is held as a truth that man serves himself in serving his fellow-creatures, and that his private interest is to do good.”

I went to a party last month, and the hostess and I were kvetching about the pain of homeownership. She will be getting her bathroom redone and would be without a bath or shower for some unclear period of time. Meanwhile, her next-door neighbor, who is a friend, has TWO bathrooms. “How,” she mused, “can I get my neighbor to invite me over to shower?” She thought that maybe she should be particularly nice.

I joked that she had to appeal to the neighbor’s enlightened self-interest. To wit, remind him that he REALLY didn’t want some smelly neighbor with stringy, matted hair bringing down property values and scaring off visitors. I riffed on that for quite a while.

At some level, many of us operate, not out of altruism, but rather a sense of what’s best for us. People often contribute money to fighting diseases from which we, or someone we care about, have suffered because we selfishly don’t want to hear about other people suffering the same fate.

I contribute to my church because it believes in making a better, more tolerant world, which of course, is better for ME. Stating the Golden Rule negatively: You don’t do to others the crap you don’t want people to do to you. Selfish motivation.

Too often, people try to convince others to “do the right thing”. But they mess up because they want them to do it for the “right reasons.” “Can you find it in your heart to contribute?”

Nah, many people are motivated by more base instincts. “Contribute to my environmental group because you don’t want to cough your lungs out from all the pollutants that are spewing out.”

Yes, this was a cheeky exercise. But there is also a grain of truth to it.
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Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “It is held as a truth that man serves himself in serving his fellow-creatures, and that his private interest is to do good.”