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Helping others while helping ourselves

11/15/2010
By:

Jessica Giannone

Staff Writer

It is hard to imagine that when someone does something nice for you, it’s really to benefit themselves. Well, maybe it’s not that difficult to believe, but when it comes down to it, there are more ulterior motives present than we think.

If someone gives you their last stick of gum, your first reaction is, “Oh, how generous.” The person may be thinking on the surface, “I feel happy that I made the other person happy.” Sure, they truly take pleasure in pleasing someone else, but why? Is it because they just like to see other people happy, or is it because they take pride in knowing that they contributed to their happiness?

Now, this might not seem like a significant difference at all, but the reality is that if the person wanted to be the one to please the other person, that is fulfilling a self-interest.

If a person does something unselfish, it doesn’t mean they don’t have self-benefits. For example, if someone sacrifices their plans to attend to a friend in need, the idea is that they are completely unselfish.

But just think, there are a number of reasons why that person could have sacrificed their plans. It is in their best interest to, 1) feel like they’ve helped (on a religious level) thus, they won’t feel morally wrong; 2) not be labeled as the friend who didn’t help; 3) not want to face the consequences of karma, so they help the other because they expect the same in return; 4) out of pressure, insecurity or the desire to be praised; or, 5) simply to feel more productive, moreover, to fulfill a need to be needed. These all seem pathetic, in a way, but the sad thing is, almost all the time, we all have other motives to serve our own best interest. We rarely do things that will hinder ourselves, even if we truly believe we are helping someone else, just for the sake of helping.

I’m not saying there is no pure good in the world, or that it is impossible to be completely selfless (my idea is probably easy to disagree with), but if you start viewing peoples’ intentions on a higher, more individualistic level, you’d be surprised.

Let’s say someone takes a bullet for you (not something you’d want to imagine, but for argument’s sake).
They could have been saving your life out of true kindness and concern for you. On the other hand, they could have done it because they don’t want to live without you, or live with the consequences of not stepping in. One can ask, is that completely selfless?

Think about this. There are many instances where we don’t know why we cry. Could crying for someone else ever be considered completely selfless? You may perceive your sympathy for someone as altruistic (concern for the welfare of others), but maybe you’re crying because, to you, subconsciously, the idea that you are living in a world full of tragedy is scary because it can affect you directly. What you interpret as sympathy could be a fear and emotional rejection to the world that you are part of. This “theory” is conceptually deep, but it cannot be ruled out.

You, as a person, do not want to believe that what you intend to be helpful could be considered self-serving, but as humans, it is part of our make-up to live for ourselves and to question ourselves. It is always good to help others (I, for one, strongly believe in altruism), but the idea of “self-significance” isn’t always negligible. I believe that completion of this article might serve others in regards to their outlook, and in turn I can consider this unselfish, but am I?

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