Altruism vs Self-Interest

Something I said near the end of my previous post has been sticking in my mind and niggling me. I talked then about having a particular dream in life for selfish reasons, which led me to consider both selfishness and self-interest.

Both these terms have come in for a lot of bad press, but there is nothing inherently bad about either of them. They are simply a consideration of one’s self as part of any equation of human interaction. People forget that if we don’t look out for ourselves, no one else will! Giving way to everybody else, in the hope that they will give us what we want, is a very good way of being a doormat, but it’s a very bad way of being a human being. If we don’t act a little selfishly and tell people what we want, we will never get it, except by chance. This doesn’t mean that everything has to be about me, me, me, but it does mean that there has to be a certain clarity about what our wants are.

And that is another problem; so many people talk about needs when what they really mean are wants. Our needs are simple and very basic: food, water, air, shelter (protection from the elements), sleep. Even reproduction is a need, but one that can only be satisfied if the five I mentioned have been taken care of. Everything else is a want! If we can be clear about this, then we won’t be investing huge amounts of emotional energy in something we want as if it were a need. Adding emotions to our wants is a good thing, but we must be clear that they are only wants. We won’t die if we don’t get them!

Some years ago, I was talking to a coworker about Reiki and being a Reiki Master attuning people to Reiki. She accused me of being on an ego trip by pretending that I was doing it for altruistic reasons. I replied that it was altruistic, but I did it because it made me feel good! Even the most altruistic of us does it for this reason, no matter what they may say. We all do things because they either make us feel good, or we hope that they will. Doing things because they will make us sad and feel bad is just nuts. Even masochists get something out of their pain (or at least I hope so).

Giving makes us feel good. If I put a twenty (that’s pounds, not pence!) into a charity box, it’s because I feel good about helping someone else. They’ll never know who donated that money, and I won’t get any credit and be on an ego trip if I do it anonymously. I will know and feel good about it, and the Universe will be a better place for it, and that is what matters. I am being selfish, but feeling good is more important to me than the money. The characters in The Go-Giver do it because it makes them feel good!

So be selfish and promote your self-interest, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else, and see how much better your world becomes.

And the world of everyone else.

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56 Responses to “Altruism vs Self-Interest”

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  50. Stephen Oliver on March 2nd, 2014 at 16:42

    I moderate all comments, which means that they appear when I look at them and approve them. In the past few days, all I’ve received have been spam and other undesirable comments. Yours may have been wrongly filtered by the system. Sorry about that.

    A trick I use when I’m writing long comments is to use Word or some other word processor to type them in and edit them. Once I’m satisfied, I cut and paste them across.

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    Actually, I’m using WordPress. However, I have a couple of plugins ( and , among others) which help protect the contents, as well as regularly backing up.

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