Tuesday, November 30

day 10225: true selflessness…

What is true selflessness? At what point in our lives do we stop doing things for our own sake and start doing something only for the sake of others? (with absolutely no benefit to ourselves)

An old conversation with Unsanitary Man haunts me. His position is that people’s intrinsic purpose of self motivates all actions, including acts of charity - you get a tax receipt, it makes you feel better about yourself, you get the ego pump etc etc. I argue otherwise. I do things because people need it, because they can’t do it themselves and I can or simply because it makes other people happy.

“Do you feel good about it afterwards?”

“Well yes, but that’s not the point. Regardless of how I feel some type of joy or elation afterwards, I’ve still done something to help out my fellow being. It’s not about how I feel. It’s about how they feel.”

“But you do feel better about yourself afterwards. Then it’s an ego pump. You do things, you feel better, therefore you keep on doing it. If someone was to spit in your face and curse your name, would you continue doing it?”

I don’t know…

I guess it would depend on the situation. For family or friends, if it is to their benefit (whether they realize it or not) then yes, I probably would. I expect nothing in return. I care for them; therefore I would do anything for them.

But then am I appeasing my own sense of responsibility? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but if you don’t do it, then would you feel horrendously guilty about it? Do I do what I do so as to avoid suffering the long-lasting feelings of guilt? Or do I do for the sake of doing it just because it benefits them? I don’t know…

If a stranger, or, say a homeless person, then perhaps I wouldn’t. Sometimes interacting with the homeless scares me. Sometimes I avoid them, especially if they appear intoxicated-safety, afterall, should be considered seeing as how even a drunk investment banker can be risky at times. I am selective about who I give to and what I give. I offer food mostly, seldom money, but on the occasion, I will.

Do I expect anything back? No. I still have the bobble-head dog in my car because it reminds me of the unexpected. But do I feel good about it afterwards? Yes, it does feel good to see the toothless smile of someone I’ve just given my lunch to and to know that they won’t be hungry for a little while and that I can always go out and get another lunch. Ego boost? Not quite, but personal satisfaction boost… heck yeah.

So maybe he does have a point. We do things because of how it affects us. Perhaps, we are motivated by the intrinsic purpose of self and if it were not for that, we wouldn’t do anything at all.

Or perhaps not. The only thing I can come up with for any action that is truly selfless is for someone to push another out of the path of oncoming traffic only to be killed by said speeding vehicles…

What do you think?


schmassion said...

My thoughts: Life is about pursuit of pleasures, including the pleasure of feeling good about oneself. We all do things that we believe will bring us pleasure of one sort or another. The pursuit of pleasure doesn't make us a good or a bad person. What makes us good or bad is what we derive pleasure from or what types of pleasure we are willing to accept and at what cost to ourselves and others.

~ ak

Woe said...

Life is a pursuit of pleasure? That's a whole other blog discussion. If there is more than just life here on earth, then your actions today have consequences in the future. And it's more than just about pursuing pleasure today.

Acts of "kindness" and "selflessness", however that is defined, would definitely carry forward to future consequences. At the end of the day, being kind and selfless can never be bad. If you can be kind to a person, why withhold the kindness? It's not about whether you get some intrinsic good feeling from the act itself or not. It's about the fact that you helped someone and made their life better.

And frankly - Unsanitary Man's comments on the matter of selflessness are not necessarily the ones which should carry the most weight. Stop dwelling. You're a good person and you do good things. Period. And you know what - you SHOULD feel good about that. Because I feel good knowing I have a friend like you.