I've recently come to know of different categories of altruism aside from the common understanding and I thought it might make for an interesting discussion.
There is the common sense of altruism "Disinterested and selfless concern for the well being of others". I think it is a positive force in the world that improves people's lives. There is some controversy whether it really exists or not since often the people performing altruistic acts receive that "warm glow" feeling. When HHDL was asked about this his response was something about our interdependence and its sort of a false understanding that something can have an effect one way without having an effect back. But I still think it is an open question whether truly selfless acts really occur. I tend to think they can, though are fairly uncommon.
There are other less pure forms of altruism that people talk about too, reciprocal altruism, parochial altruism and the shadow side of pathological altruism.
Reciprocal altruism I think can be summed up in the idea of an abundance mindset.
The abundance mentality…is the paradigm that there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It results in sharing of prestige, of recognition, of profits, of decision making.
In evolutionary biology, reciprocal altruism is a behaviour whereby an organism acts in a manner that temporarily reduces its fitness while increasing another organism's fitness, with the expectation that the other organism will act in a similar manner at a later time.
Someone practicing reciprocal altruism gives from the sense that others will appreciate and notice their efforts and consider returning the favor. I don't think it necessarily has to be a direct reciprocity from the same individuals. I wonder if the idea of paying it forward might fit here or maybe that would be a different category because the "payback" is to society as a whole. Maybe social altruism?
Parochial altruism is the sort of thing that can be found in smaller, intentional communities where people sacrifice for the benefit of the group. Think of Amish barn raisings where the community comes together or a sports team where "there's no I in team"
Probably from the perspective of spiritual enlightenment these other two forms wouldn't be considered the ideal. Maybe they could be thought of as skillful means or stages of the path?
Finally to the shadow side, pathological altruism. I think this aligns fairly well the the notion of idiot compassion.
Guilt is a prosocial emotion,” O’Connor explains. “We’re hardwired for it. Guilt holds us together by prompting us act on behalf of others and to forgive.”
Without empathy and empathy-derived guilt we couldn’t form those meaningful interpersonal bonds that help us survive, reproduce, and preserve the integrity of our own kin and community. But if the more rational areas of our brain which give rise to planning and self-control don’t temper our empathic instincts, they can undermine our own — and others’ — physical and psychological health.
Think of a mother who insists upon writing her son’s college application because she wants him to get into the best Ivy League college. Or the dutiful daughter who buys her obese mother sugar-laden sweets to placate the latter’s cravings.
Then call to mind the overzealous surgeon who insists upon invasive procedures to fix a patient who would rather die in peace, nd the ill-informed neighbor who turns his home into a kitty haven — to the detriment of his and the kittens’ health and the safety of those living nearby.
I'm interested in what you all may think about any of these things or any altruistic stories you may have heard of like Wesley Autrey.