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Questioning selfless-ness

By Tinky Ningombam

They say that you are what you read, what you eat, what you live by. They say that to be the best person you think you can be, you should never stop realizing yourself to be the best possible version of you. Along the way you make moral choices, pick up life-learnings and rules. And we play out our time here, in this mortal shell, seldom knowing the entire picture. And along these lines, I quote yet again, one of my favourite humorist of all times, Oscar Wilde, who expressed this time tested saying that “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”

So with that happy thought today, we shall debate on an all-familiar topic of Altruism. Altruism is the term that denotes the noble act of unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others. Normally associated with an action/behavior which is not beneficial to himself/herself but to others and may or may not be harmful to itself.

Despite my continued efforts, I remain cynical of any goodwill that people do for free, including my own. And it is equally easy to say and believe that everyone is selfish. I will not be faced with a NO.

Everyone is selfish.

Yet we ask – should everyone always be self-less?

There are very few people in this entire world who will have no motive to be purely self-less. We are humans after all. We do good for some reward. Even if it is just to collect brownie points for the afterlife.

My problem however is with this increasing amount of guilt that man-made morality puts on people who are judged by other people based on altruism and the lack of it based on their pre-decided judgement.

My case in point. Every day when I travel in and around the city, I meet poor kids, more than ten times a day, at different traffic lights selling trinkets, selling old flowers, most of them begging for food. There was a time when I used to part the little bit of change I had in my pockets to give them. But overtime I have become nonchalant. I have begun placing my own interests before theirs. I rationalize. I slog throughout the day, run around to earn a decent amount of wage and struggle to keep up with life. Increasingly, I become selfish of my needs before I think of others, but in doing so get riddled with guilt. An altruistic person will say “Do whatever you think you can.” But if I go around distributing my entire material possessions to all the poor people around me, which let us assume is the ultimate self-less deed that I can do, I will definitely become one of the poor. But I do not favor to land up below the poverty line. What we want to pacify is the voice in our head asking “Are you doing enough
?” But do we know how much altruism is enough? Who decides?

To survive truly in my own capacity and to function like a responsible citizen, I have to avoid certain altruistic instincts that my practical mind tells me that I can’t afford. Am I a morally degenerate person for not feeding the poor outside every time I go out to eat? Well, I don’t really know. I might be bombarded with a million accusations after this. “You are one of the privileged people” “There are a million people starving when you eat that lavish lunch”

Therefore, I went about thing to decipher why I should be constantly made to feel quilty for not giving money to the beggars. (who may or may not spend the money on something other than food.) For that matter, if I was a corrupt public servant and I amassed humongous amount of wealth but still donated 25% of those earnings for the needy. Does it make me a morally good person?

Morality is a tricky game. In the whole scheme of things, giving money to the poor is a very small thing if you think about it. Besides,good deeds are not only increasingly driven by self-interest groups but people have come to believe that one act of self-assumed good deed can exempt one to think that they have done their part. If I paid 5 bucks for a cause it is assumed that I have instantly earned my good karma points for an entire year. Or supporting a cause because you think is cool but not actually bothered to understand what you are fighting for.

I didn’t get my answers today and as I struggled through my brain mush, I asked more

• Will one act of altruism free you from “self-ish” acts?

• How much “selfless” is selflessness?

• Is an ideal altruist world possible – should everyone only devote their lives for the lives of others?

• Am I a good person if I do a good deed to earn fame or success or money or a better afterlife bargain from God?

So there was this American psychologist called Abraham Harold Maslow who is known for creating the theory called the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs*. His theory on human developmental psychology described the stages of growth in humans where he has to fulfilled his basic and higher needs. Maslow said a person needs to cross the stages and reach “self-actualization” to be able to truly help people selflessly or become altruistic.

Maslow’s stages have been expanded over the years and in the 90’s, have been listed in psychological studies as the 8 stages.

These are-

1. BIOLOGICAL & PSYCHOLOGICAL NEEDS – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.

2. SAFETY NEEDS – protection from elements, security, order, law, limits, stability, etc.

3. SOCIAL NEEDS – Belongingness and Love, – work group, family, affection, relationships, etc.

4. ESTEEM NEEDS – self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, dominance, prestige, managerial responsibility, etc.

5. COGNITIVE NEEDS – knowledge, meaning, etc.

6. AESTHETIC NEEDS – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.

7. SELF-ACTUALIZATION NEEDS – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.

8. TRANSCENDENCE NEEDS – helping others to achieve self-actualization.

Long story short.

Unless your own basic needs are met, you can never entirely go out to meet the needs of others.

Call me selfish but I do not have a better answer.




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