Altruism.

If you haven’t heard the word before, don’t worry. The first time I heard it, I had to run to the dictionary to understand what it meant. In fact the first time I saw the word, was actually in a Performance Review at work. The project manager used this term in reference to me. At first I thought it was something negative. When in fact its the opposite. I was called Altruistic.

Now the true meaning of Altruism, is in my opinion almost unattainable. The dictionary meaning is “Altruism is the renunciation of the self, and an exclusive concern for the welfare of others.” The reason I think its unattainable, is because I don’t think that you can do something for the express purposes of others without having some sort of personal satisfaction. Go ahead and try. I think that on some level you will experience some sort of personal satisfaction. See what I mean.

So let me ask you this, when was the last time you helped someone ? Someone that has no relation to you ? So in other words, not a family member or a close friend.

Let me tell you a story on this… So a few years back, I had the opportunity to work with a guy… Paul. Incredibly smart, there seemed to be no end to the hilarity when you were with Paul.  There were a number of evenings spent in the lounge with the team and laughs were usually very plentiful.  So one week on the project, one of Paul’s team members was having a particularly bad week.  So Paul invited her to the lounge, he bought drink after drink.  We then took her out to play pool for a while… all the while continuing to buy her drinks.  So its now late, she is very drunk, in fact we all are.  However this gal lives in the city where we are.  All of us have hotel rooms, she doesn’t.  So Paul goes up to the front desk, and asks for a specific room, and because Paul knows all of the Front Desk staff and management, he is able to get the room for a very reasonable rate.  He pays for the room, and then flips the key to his now very drunk team member.  He explains, “you can’t go home. Not like this. Tell your family that you had to work late, and that you just stayed at the hotel”.
So did this resolve all the issues facing this gal.  Probably not, but did she know that her lead had her back and would take complete care of her. Yup.  What I witnessed was something I had never seen before. Someone that took complete care of someone else, and didn’t ask for anything in return. This seemed to be second nature to Paul. His intention was noble, he just wanted to take this gal out and make her forget about her crappy work week, if only for an evening. This is an evening I’ll remember forever, as I was complete in awe by the generosity of the gesture. When was the last time you’ve seen a gesture like this ?

So what is it about helping others ? Do you help others ? If so, is there a limit to how far you go in this help ? I’m not talking just giving to charity… albeit, that is noble if you do give. I’m talking about helping someone else out… someone that you really don’t know that well.  Doing something that is completely unexpected, but that is complete appreciated. That kind of helping out.

When was the last time you did that ? Maybe you should give it a try ?

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4 Responses to Altruism.

  1. Jodie says:

    When I think of the word, I relate it to people like Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Nelson Mandella. These people gave EVERYTHING of themselves to help others. There are few of us, if any, who can say we do that. Philosophy would argue that even the likes of Mother Theresa could not be truly altruistic as she benefitted by being the person she was. Altruism is something to aspire to, but in the eyes of many philosophers, completely unattainable.

    I think the best we can all do is to be kind and generous without expectation of what it might get us. Wouldn’t the world be a much better place to be if everyone thought this way? I think we start out with this “goal” when we are young, then the teenage years hit us (some worse than others). After that, as we grow into adulthood, we make the decision…to be kind and generous, thinking of others over ourselves? Or do we put ourselves ahead of all others?

    As a teacher of high school aged kids, I wonder if what I am doing/saying will help those kids to be the kind and generous souls we need in this world. I sure hope that I am.

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