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Monday, March 15, 2010

Selfishness and Altruism: Two sides of the same coin?

Today in my afterschool martial arts program, all the kids were taking their snack break in the commons area, when I heard a sharp shout above the din of talking and laughter: "I'm in 8th grade! For gosh sakes! I'm not some baby ya know!"

I stopped the class. "Whoa, what's going on?" I asked, while the shouter, an 8th grade girl, stomped away to another part of the commons area and plunked down in a chair with her arms folded and a grumpy look on her face.

After speaking to several boys about what happened, I learned that one of them asked her why she was giving away her snack.

"Yeah, then she started to get all mad and we asked 'why are ya mad?', then she started screamin'"

I was surprised at her reaction to whatever upset her, because a bit earlier, she offered her snack to me, saying "I'm not into animal can have them if you want...its called 'unselfishness'. I heard you say earlier that you were hungry even though you had lunch not long ago..."

"Well, thank you! Unselfishness, eh? Sometimes, we can use the word "Altruistic"..."

"I like to not be selfish. But what's that 'altruistic' mean?"

"Well, it kind of means that you're concerned about the interests and welfare of others, and may often offer your service, time, or asstance to help other attain whatever goal or desination they're going for or hoping for....all without expectation of reward or recognition. Kind of like that!!" I answered.

"So selfishness and altru..."


"Yeah, they're kinda like opposites?"

"Yeah, you could say that", I smiled. "Actually, I'm not into animal crackers either...maybe you may share with the others??"

"Sure! Its all about altruism, right!" She said, as she walked back to the group.

Fast forward 10 minutes later, after the shouting scene. I walked over to her and found out that she was upset that she wasn't highly commended or complimented or thanked by the kids on her selfless act of sharing.

"Remember what I said about selfishness and altruism being opposites?" I asked. "Sometimes though, we may tend to be so caught up in our own thoughts or our own needs and wants only, work so hard to makes these needs and wants happen that we forget to at what others need and want."

"...But I'm always helping people and sharing. No one really appreciates it!"

"Then, that's not being truly altruistic. If you are looking for recognition and awards for helping others, that's a kind of selfishness." I said.

She looked at me and nodded. "So...I'm being sefish by wanting people to recognize me as a good person?"

"No, not sefish....but maybe wanting to be important maybe. Think about you do good things so people say 'oh! Helen is such a good person!', or, do you do good things just because it feels good or because its the right thing to do?"

"Aah...I guess a little of both" She said. "I like doing the right things, but I want people to know I'm doing it for them".

"Aaah", I said. "Then that isn't really selflessness or unselfishness if you do things just for the gain of recognition. Or, when you're older, if you the do right things only for fame or profit."

She nodded. "So what now?"

"Go over there and apologize to screaming at them. They didn't say anything to make you allowed yourself to interpret things differently and you got yourself mad. That's the right thing...go say 'sorry'".


So ask yourselves...."Am I doing right and good, and doing service for my community out of good feeling, love for fellow people and compassion? Or am I doing this for fame, recognition, money, or other profit? Am I doing this for only my personal gain?"

No one would want to think of themselves as someone who is so egotistal. But, you'll probably be surprised, that one time or another, we've all given service for the ulterior motive of being recognized as "that great person" or for personal gain. I've been there....and will struggle for a long time with that question of "Am I really all that and a bag of chips, expecting fame and fortune from all this? Or am I doing good for the sake of doing good?"

There's nothing wrong, of course, if people recognize you as a great person, a great leader, or even a selfless altruistic person.... but don't let it go to your head and don't allow ulterior motives guide your decisions. If you do, you'll only end up make everyone happy *except* for yourself!

Train the mind, strengthen the spirit. Train well!


Real_Ego_87 said...

That little girl has had almost three years to think about these words, some of her earliest years of developement, and I'm sure that she's well on her way to self-destruction by now. I pity her and I abhor you, the blogger.

At least you finally managed to throw in something at the end about her own happiness, but it's wrapped in such an elaborate bundle of contradictory crap that I'm sure she must have no clue what to do with it. She could spend the rest of her life martyring herself in quiet submission. And here you are with the keys to the doors into the minds of a whole room full of children.

Restita, Seattle Wushu Center said...

Real_Ego87. It appears you either missed the whole point of my blog post or read into it the wrong way. First off, i only only reminded her to check her Ego, and reminded her that helping others for the sake of helping others has rewards beyond tangible compliments or accolades. The whole point of the story was to remind others to check their egos.

"Martyring herself"? "Not knowing what to do with it?". I'll tell you what she did..... She later made the decision onvher own to pursue martial arts.... joined my school and is a skillful martial artist. She has put in a lot of hard work and is a junior coach for our teens class. She has wonderful plans for college and is a smart well adjusted young lady.... NOT some self deprecating martyr as you try to predict.

I suggest that before coming to conclusions and conjecture, that you clarify with bloggers about what their real original point was.... Because you read into post incorrectly. Are you a psychology professional?