A while back a friend and I were talking about true selfless giving. The question came up can a human actually be truly altruistic? After all when giving to someone else isn’t seeing the joy of the receiver a benefit to the giver? What about the gratitude, recognition or tax break the giver receives?
He suggested I try giving without anyone knowing and without ever meeting the person or origination I give to. Made me think. During a busy week how often do I stop to think about someone else in need? Usually unless I am made aware of a food drive or receive a request for a donation I never think about giving except for the organizations I regularly give to. If no one reminds me or no one asks me, how giving am I really?
He also had another suggestion; give to the point you feel the sacrifice. It is one thing to anonymously donate money or things that I would never miss anyway, but to give to the point I am giving up something important to me is an experience I seldom consider. Can I give up a planned weekend away to anonymously give that money to someone who will never know I helped them? Can I do something like that and never tell anyone saying only that I changed my mind about going away for a few days? And is that really altruism?
I think these are great practices but lately I have been thinking about if true altruism requires complete anonymity and what constitutes personal sacrafice. I’m going to a party this afternoon to meet the recipient of a good friend’s kidney. My friend noticed a post on our company’s employee blog about someone who needs a kidney. It wasn’t written by the person in need but by a co-worker. When my friend read this she did a little research and then without telling anyone she started the process to be tested for compatibility. The surgery is scheduled for the end of the month. Today the family and friends of both the kidney donor (my friend) and the guy who will be receiving this amazing gift are getting together to meet and celebrate life.
I agree that altruism is about giving without getting in return but as far as I’m concerned willingly having surgery that will require weeks of recovery, giving up a part of one’s own body to a complete stranger is an amazing example of true altruism. Sure people, including myself, keep telling her how in awe we are of her compassion but I believe that her sacrifice and willingness to assume risk to her own life far outweigh any kudos she gets from others.
I am no longer convinced that a person needs to be completely anonymous to be truly altruistic. And actually I no longer care about how or why someone helps another. To me it is the intent that defines truly altruistic behavior.
A little about my friend: She is a vegetarian trending towards vegan, she donates an amazing amount of time to animal care organizations and recruits others (I’m a recruit). She volunteers at hospice, and she crochets hats for premie babies. The thing is that few people know all this about her. She doesn’t really talk about it.
Being vegan means respecting all life including human life. I can’t claim to be as compassionate as my friend but I am grateful for her example. I hope her example helps me remember, even before someone asks that others are in need and maybe I should stop for a minute from my comfortable little life and give back for no other reason than someone is in need.