The tendency to help another may be innate to humans, but some are more human than others. Yes, some are altruists who go out of their way, subjecting themselves happily to pain and difficulties for the sake of another. Perhaps, for such beings, there is no 'other' being; but a single integrated whole where the self has extended much beyond one's being.
Altruism: its layers and nuances
Martin Luther King Jr. had once said, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Altruism is a selfless concern for the well-being of others. It is putting others before yourself.
The concept has a long history in philosophical and ethical thought. The term was originally coined in the 19th Century by the founding sociologist and philosopher of Science, Auguste Comte. Females are 17% more altruistic than men across all age groups. and has become a major topic for research across diverse domains. Socrates had summed up the essence of altruism in the words: “I am a citizen, not of Athens or Greece, but of the world”.
An altruistic person cares about the well being of others even at the cost of personal danger and suffering. In the film “Hachi:A dog’s tale”, the dog dies saving his owner’s life. This is because dogs tend to reciprocate the kindness which humans show to them. We humans also tend to think that when a person helps us ,we owe them their kindness. However altruism goes far beyond this.
Who is an altruist?
We are naturally drawn to help a beggar with food. Mother Teresa had taken upon her the mission to reduce poverty. Blood or kidney donors are altruists. They might be doing the donation due to money but the money cannot be equated with the sacrifice they make. The rich donate in charity. They choose to spend their money on helping people and doing something that benefits other people and mankind in general. Doctors and police officers also overwork themselves to save people’s lives. These are all altruist acts that are satisfying in themselves, but varying on the extent of the extent of sacrifice involved. This is irrespective of the money involved.
Extreme altruism and its danger
At times people are drawn to moral goodness for its own sake and commit themselves beyond reasonable expectations. The standards to which one holds himself and the emotions that are cultivated to care for strangers gives him a degree of detachment from family. It comes from a worldview that everyone is equal. However such kindness also stands the risk of being taken advantage of. At yet another extreme, we can cite the example of a diehard cat lover who is allergic to cats and their fur. She will step out to rescue a trapped kitten even though she will surely require medical attention soon after for her face turning red with allergy. In fact research has shown that almost 78.54% of the human population are altruists.
Altruism is innate in us, though the extent might vary from person to person. With a slight effort, everyone can realise the altruism that is innate within the person. However it is a virtue that needs to be exercised with caution. One should be conscious of who one is trying to help.
About the authors
The article has been contributed by the following students from Our Lady Queen of the Missions School, Park Circus, Kolkata: Agrima Gupta, Asmita Chatterjee, Rajita Sadhukhan and Kinkini Chowdhury.