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Forms of Altruism

personperson Don't believe everything you thinkthe liminal space Veteran
edited July 18 in General Banter

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.
https://psychcentral.com/blog/too-much-of-a-selfless-good-thing-pathological-altruism/

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.

Shoshin

Comments

  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited July 18

    Altruism in its higher derfish (like sufi but more swimming in schools) form is not reciprocal. We might equate it with random acts of kindness or generosity as basic training.
    No high achievement. Everyone should be capable of decency.

    Higher altruism is completely unseen. It does not need or necessarily seek positive reward. For example:
    https://www.learningtogive.org/resources/even-her-taking-was-giving-0

    person
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran
    edited July 18

    @lobster said:
    Altruism in its higher derfish (like sufi but more swimming in schools) form is not reciprocal. We might equate it with random acts of kindness or generosity as basic training.
    No high achievement. Everyone should be capable of decency.

    And yet they often aren't. Is it helpful to add additional stops on the train to perfect altruism to allow the imperfect among us a place to be generous and cooperative?

    Higher altruism is completely unseen. It does not need or necessarily seek positive reward. For example:
    https://www.learningtogive.org/resources/even-her-taking-was-giving-0

    Because I'm disagreeable... could that story fall into the category of parochial altruism because her actions were for her neighbor? A neighborhood being a type of small community.

    I didn't really speak of intention in my post but that's an important aspect. In reciprocal, parochial and even pathological altruism the individual's intentions may be experienced as completely selfless and wholesome. I guess I often think of things from an evolutionary perspective and am thinking about Richard Dawkins "selfish gene", where from a group selection perspective even selfless acts towards one's tribe increases the fitness of the tribe and thus benefits oneself.

    Sorry to argue, its not personal. Being able to take others perspectives and reflect my own back on them helps me clarify and enhance my own thinking. And hopefully helps reveal the whole elephant rather than the blind men feeling the trunk, tail, ears, etc.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran
    edited July 18

    @Shoshin said:

    Forms of Altruism

    I've found that at times some people can get so hung up on doing the right thing when it comes to a selfless act of kindness/generosity, that they never or rarely get around to carrying out such acts,due to their intellect & ego getting in the way...where they are constantly questioning their motives behind any actions...

    I'm reminded of a Kiwi friend who was living overseas and had the opportunity to volunteer at a soup kitchen during the winter months, the organisation was in need of volunteers...She said she never got around to volunteering because she was constantly questioning her motives behind doing such work... Eg "I am doing this to help those in need ?"... "Or for my own ego's sake?" (to make me feel good about my self).....

    I'm under the impression true altruism is spontaneous in other words when an opportunity arises to be of benefit (and you are in the position to do so, (be it financially or time wise and whatever thoughts arise ....for or against) you just do it anyway....before the intellect and ego talks your self out of it....something which it/they are in the habit of doing...

    I've found the best form of altruism is of the non-thinking "kind" :)

    Yeah, I find I am most generous in everyday interactions where acts are more spontaneous than I am when it comes to intentionally doing generous things where I have time to think them through.

    I've also heard, I think it was Gil Fronsdale or maybe Joseph Goldstein, talk about a practice where whenever a generous thought arises they commit themselves to following through, rather than thinking it over and coming up with reasons to not do it.

    Shoshinlobster
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited July 18

    Yes....Spontaneity is from what I gather not to give rise to thought ...AKA Carpe diem seize the day/moment/opportunity

    For once thought along with it's side kicks feeling & emotion arrives on the scene...all could be lost to their seductive charms...

    ....their charismatic nature...thus have "I" heard....and of which I've often experienced... :)

    lobster
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran
    edited July 18

    Just came across a fitting quote to add to the thread

    “Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. The rest is commentary.” David Sloan Wilson, Evolutionary Biologist

    Just after posting I remember something occupational psychologist Adam Grant has done work on. He divides the employment world into givers, takers and matchers (reciprocaters). The people who usually do the worst in terms of success are givers, but the people who usually do the best are also givers. My understanding of the difference is about the ability of the giver to avoid being harmed by the takers and/or not enough self care.

    https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/04/10/adam-grant-give-and-take/

    Shoshin
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    My understanding of the difference is about the ability of the giver to avoid being harmed by the takers and/or not enough self care.

    What the hell are bodhisattvas doing in the lower realms which can take care of themselves? :rage: Come to think of it ... what are they doing in the Purelands when the human realm is facing extreme dukkha? :cry:

    Tsk, tsk no wonder they are not BuddhaHoodies ... some of them may be ants (doubtful) :-1:

    Should even the myriad beings of the three realms without exception
    Become angry at me, humiliate, criticise, threaten or even kill me,
    I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of patience not to be distraught,
    But to work for their benefit in response to their harm.

    Even if I must remain for an ocean of eons in the fiery hells of Avici
    For the sake of even just one sentient being,
    I seek your blessings to complete the perfection of joyous effort,
    To strive with compassion for supreme enlightenment and not be discouraged.

    (Verses 103 – 104, Guru Puja)
    http://teachingsfromtibet.com/2017/06/06/generating-bodhicitta-2/

    [lobster wonders if Avici is a good place to barbecue] 🤪

  • DavidDavid some guy Veteran

    @person said:
    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.

    A minor point but not sure how one could have a disinterested concern. Other than that, I agree with the Dalai Lama here that there is no such thing as a rewardless good deed.
    I freely admit that when I do something nice for someone, it is because I am being selfish. I am thinking of what is best for the self I serve at the time which is not always my own personal one but two out of three ain't bad.

    I have very limited time right now but will get into the stories later this evening.

    person
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    @David said:

    @person said:
    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.

    A minor point but not sure how one could have a disinterested concern. Other than that, I agree with the Dalai Lama here that there is no such thing as a rewardless good deed.
    I freely admit that when I do something nice for someone, it is because I am being selfish. I am thinking of what is best for the self I serve at the time which is not always my own personal one but two out of three ain't bad.

    I have very limited time right now but will get into the stories later this evening.

    I think this is where the controversy lies. Its that for an act to be truly altruistic is has to be completely selfless and sacrificial. The argument against that is that at some level there exists an advantage in terms of social recognition or personal reward in terms of the warm glow. But as is said, that sort of distinction might not really make any sense in the real world.

    The story of Wesley Autrey I linked in the OP, I think, is a really good example of an act that may be fully altruistic.

    David
  • DavidDavid some guy Veteran

    Well, the reason I don't believe in altruism is first, the individual is an illusory tool and second, even at the conventional level, doing something good for one usually has a rippling effect.

    I've yet to read it, but I am guessing just reading the story is going to stir up a good feeling. Even just the anticipation of reading it is pleasant and so the ripples continue.

  • howhow Veteran Veteran

    Within a dreaming self, altruism is a fool's errand.
    Outside of this dream, no dreamer is left to be found.
    Here, altruism is just a manifestation of that awakening.

    personlobsterShoshin
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    I've found the best form of altruism is of the non-thinking "kind" :)

    Exactly so. @how says something similar. Ideally there is no presence of exchange motivation in such a given.

    It really is outside of conventional psychological modelling based on healthy egoic animaling. In a way it does not have a reason or karmic cause. It may therefore be recognized as woke or spiritual behavour ...

    howShoshin
  • ToshTosh Veteran
    edited July 20

    I'm not kind or generous by nature; not when I've been working, it's hot and I'm tired. In fact I can be a fault-finding grumpy twunt at times. I guess that's because I'm still very much human.

    So for me 'structured altruism' works best where I'm put in a position of having to be kind to people, whether I want to or not. I generally want to, but actually being that is a different matter.

    It's why AA is good for me. I always take on a service position, such as making the coffee, which forces me to turn up, make coffee and offer a few words of encouragement to someone who is new and struggling.

    Or even offer to take them to some meetings I wouldn't go to otherwise.

    This isn't only good for them, it's good for me. This is intelligent altruism; we're all winners.

    Keromehowperson
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I think the best kind of altruism is that motivated by compassionate feelings, that “here is something I can do for you, it will make you better and I don’t need anything in return”. Some of @tosh’s structured altruism does fall into this category, that by helping you he is also helping himself. But any kind of altruism I think is worthy behaviour.

    Tosh
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran
    edited July 20

    I think maybe this falls under what HHDL calls, wise selfishness, its understanding that helping others is one of the best ways of helping ourselves.

    And in my experience it automatically builds an other focused mind set.

    Overall I think most people have some level of mixed intentions and that having a truly altruistic mindset takes a lot of deep work. So I find it helpful to have less pure forms of behavior that can be considered altruistic that the more human members of the human race can engage with.

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