Does Altruism Exist?
Of course it does! There are many examples of the existence of altruism or, “a willingness to help others without considering any possible benefit for ourselves” (Pastorino & Doyle-Portillo, 2012). Whether all individuals choose to exhibit altruistic behavior is another story.
My first thought, when thinking about altruism, was around how many people choose to become first aid and CPR certified. Should we believe that all individuals who choose to pay for this type of training are altruistic? Well, maybe, and maybe not. While many people do get the training and actually perform it with no compensation, there are many jobs that require individuals to have certain levels of CPR certification. Paid lifeguards, for instance, are required to have CPR for the professional for most lifeguard certifications.
Since we must be careful about first aid training, what about general volunteering? Would it be ok to assume that all volunteers were altruistic? While I do believe that many volunteers are altruistic, there are circumstances where volunteering is not such a voluntary activity. Many employers offer financial compensation to the organizations that their employees volunteer for. Say, for example, that an employee had a child in a scouting program, and the parent was a scout volunteer. If their employer donated money to the program because they ‘volunteered’ their time, and their child benefited from that donation, should the behavior of the original employee still be considered altruistic?
What about people and corporations that make these financial donations? Are financial donations evidence of altruism? I would again submit that maybe they are, but not always. As many of us who just filled out our taxes are aware, you can take a tax deduction for financial donations to charitable organizations. In fact, many large companies rely on these tax ‘write offs’ in order to reduce their tax liability. If an organization plans a charitable financial donation in order to reduce their tax liability, does that still qualify as an act of altruism?
Even though I could go on and on giving examples of behavior that I’m not sure would be considered altruistic, that doesn’t mean that everyone looks at charitable works as self-serving behaviors. There are a thousand random acts of kindness everyday that go unrecognized. Anyone who rolls down their window to give money to a homeless person on the side of the street at a stop light is probably not thinking that their toll change is going stop someone from breaking into their home. They are probably just trying to make sure someone else has something to eat for dinner. My father would not let me drive a car until I knew how to change a tire. I am very proud of the fact that I can do it by myself. However, at 39 years old, I have had about 10 flat tires in my life, and I have NEVER had to change it on my own. As a woman, if I get the tire and the jack out of the trunk, a man ALWAYS pulls over and does it for me. They don’t do it for my phone number and they don’t do it for money. They just do it to be nice. Altruism exists, it really just up to the individual to decide to follow through on the urge to do something because it makes them feel good to have done it.
Pastorino, E., & Doyle-Portillo, S. (2012). What is psychology?. (3rd Edition ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.