What is Altruism?
Well, as of today when I checked, Merriam Webster claims:
Altruism is currently in the top 1% of lookups and is the 83rd most popular word on Merriam-Webster.com.
And, it’s defined as…
Altruism: unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others
Pretty big kudos, true? And, of course, it is incredibly appealing to the idealism of youth (and the hope of heaven). How wildly noble it is to think of other instead of oneself. The problem is rather simple…is this really possible? Can anyone really think of other without regard to oneself?
Webster’s adds a few examples, among which we find:
Mary may have ample resources and prefer that her share pass to her children who have greater need and are in lower income tax brackets.
(The progressive nature of our tax laws often fosters such altruism among family members.)
—William M. McGovern, Jr. et al., Wills, Trusts and Estates, 1988
Of course, there isn’t enough information, but was it really unselfish? Really? Was she not leaving a legacy or helping her children to avoid later family conflicts? Was she hoping that they would appreciate what she was doing? Are the motives purely and perfectly loving? Really?
No, we don’t know for sure…but it is easy to imagine that she would have felt bad (been thought of poorly) to keep it to herself.
So, what am I saying? Is there no such thing as altruism? Pretty much. I don’t see how an ideal can be truly fulfilled this side of the perfection of heaven. Worse yet, it is harmful to our kids because it simply teaches them to pursue an unreachable goal. Why would we do that?
Now, before you wig out (is that still a hip phrase?), consider the most altruistic person in history: Jesus Christ.
The most altruistic action ever taken was His own death for the world (see John 3:16).
And yet, was it completely without regard to Himself? Was it truly selfless?
Hebrews 12:2 (ESV) “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
So, even in the incredible sacrifice of the Lord…us with him (and the joy accompanying it) was a part of His motive. But, wasn’t that good and noble and right? Of course!
You see, there is no way to escape our own self-interest. God placed it there. It is the foundation of the Law and it is the Crown of Grace. We are all glad God loves those we love, but we are glad-glad that he loves us. It’s just how it is.
The same goes with parenting effectively…it is there self-interest that helps them choose well.
It is true selfisness that has them choose poorly. The problem isn’t our self-interest, rather it is that we are often self-interested without considering others too. We are also self-interested without thinking down the road a little (students want to play right now…but as they mature they forgo playing for study…
because it IS in there own best long-term interest!).
Yes, Philippians 2:3–4 (ESV)
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
The translation is fine…it includes our interests too.
Please re-think this…crazy altruism is distracting our youth from the realities of life in an imperfect world.
This is a lesson worth the effort!
Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand
P.S. I’d love your thoughts below.