I’m intrigued by the word ‘altruism’. It carries so much weight.
AboutPsychology.com says altruism involves unselfish concern for other people. It’s about “doing things simply out of a desire to help – not because you feel obligated to out of duty, loyalty, or religious reasons,” the site reads.
That statement brings up lots of questions for me. What truly motivates a person to help others? Is complete altruism possible? That is, can any of us truly help someone without any sense of duty, desire for praise, guilt, or selfish ambition?
Every day we have the power to choose small altruistic actions, from opening the door for a friend to helping an elderly woman with her trolley.
More heroic acts of altruism might involve diving into the ocean to save a drowning child or giving a charity a large sum of money.
Psychologists call it ‘prosocial behavior’. This refers to any action that benefits other people, no matter what the motive or how the giver benefits from the action.
So does motive matter? Someone might begrudgingly help a lady across the street, without her noticing the spirit behind it. Does this undo the intrinsic ‘goodness’ of the act?
It’s been proven that altruism activates reward centres in the brain. Neurobiologists have found that when engaged in an altruistic act, the pleasure centres of the brain become active. So, even if we start off feeling resentful of a kind act, we might find it turns into enjoyment – thus making it an almost addictive behaviour.
Sometimes people who experience great tragedy make the difficult decision to keep engaging with their community and the needs of others during their grief. Selfless acts, no matter what season of life we’re in, won’t solve our problems – but might just keep us going emotionally.
No-one will ever know if ‘true altruism’ exists, but we do know that unselfish acts can bring a deep joy that superficial ‘solutions’ fail to provide. And in loving others, we reflect the love of Jesus – the one whose motives are always pure, right, and just.
May we keep learning to love like he loves.
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NLT)