Altruism, for those of you who don’t know how to Google definitions of unfamiliar words, is what happens when selflessness and motivation have dirty sex and pop out a screaming, squishy lovechild. To be altruistic is to be entirely engrossed in the well-being of others to the point that your own happiness not only falls by the wayside, but breaks both its legs on the way down and proceeds to get peed on by homeless scavengers for a few days before finally surrendering to the elements and dying an undignified, piss-covered death.
Yes, it is a true statement that we all are interconnected, and promoting the general quality of life within a community — whether that community consists of a nuclear family, a few dozen friends, a small city, or the world — is indeed a necessary pursuit. Indeed, if every human allocated 4% of their energy to enhancing the access to a good life for the people by whom they’re surrounded, the world would become a better place quite quickly.
Other true statement: Caring more about other people than you do about yourself has actually been scientifically proven to be the most selfish thing a person can do.
It’s fake science, though. Like, snowballs-in-the-Senate science.
For a little over two decades, I carried around two enormous misconceptions about altruism:
- I am an altruist.
- Being altruistic is a good thing.
However, it’s become quite clear in my Enlightened Adult Years that people who claim to be altruists, or who swear their acts are altruistic, are in truth just one of three types of people:
- Chatty monks
- Self-satisfied narcissists
The second type of person (again, I’m not interested in order — unless its Law and Order, in which case I’m only interested if it’s SVU. And if it’s SVU, I’m REALLY INTERESTED. Like, take four days off work to marathon that B-word) is the type of person I recently realized that I used to be. This non-linear, non-circular, non-rail-riding and basically nonsensical train of thought arrived at the station about a year ago, leading me to the conclusion that I am not, in fact, an altruist. Nor do I want to be.
I used to think that volunteering to do the menial jobs at work made me a selfless coworker; that constantly eating at the same, boring restaurant made me a loving girlfriend; that drinking wine I don’t like and going to bars that are too expensive made me a fun and carefree friend.
Sure, all of these things could be argued to be selfless; after all, in each situation I was slicing off some facet of my own happiness in an effort to turn around and dole it out to the people in my life.
But, should you pause to break down the steps and examine the process, that’s not how the equation actually adds up. Torturing myself so that other people have it a little bit better is a tactic employed by my subconscious to ensure that I’m The Cool Person Everyone Always Wants Around, not the Good Person Making the World Better.
There isn’t a single shred of altruism tucked away in the desire to be liked by everyone. Indeed, that’s stuffed to the gills with selfishness — the mortal enemy of charity.
Final true statement: The surest way to have a positive impact on my world is to be my best self in that world. That means caring about myself, and doing things to make myself happy. Saying, “No,” when something doesn’t benefit me is perhaps more altruistic than agreeing to everything presented to me, no matter whether it’s a personal or professional responsibility.
Or maybe I’m just a self-centered jerk.
Either way, I’m going to continue taking care of myself even if it’s sometimes at the disadvantage of others. Because #treatyoself.