Altruism – it doesn’t make me a doormat

I like to do good things.

I feel good helping people and that it makes them happy. So this is probably not true altruism but it’s my altruism.

I had a friend who would relentlessly ask me why I helped people. He would say, ‘Why are you doing these things, they’d never do the same for you?’ I agreed, they probably wouldn’t, either because they didn’t have the capability to return the favour or because they wouldn’t want to.But having the favour returned isn’t the point.

Altruism isn’t a bank account or a pantry; you don’t stock it up for a rainy day then nibble away on your savings or nuts. If you are expecting anything in return then it’s a trade and that’s that. It’s totally fine if you are trading goods and services, it is what everyone in the world does. But why aren’t we more altruistic?

Here are a few reasons I have had for not being altruistic in the past:

  • That homeless man will probably spend any money I give him on drugs.
  • I gave to that person recently and already they are asking again.
  • Why should I help this person when I know they are capable of helping themselves?
  • How much good can I do as only one person?

They are all good reasons for not helping and I could probably find a reason for not helping someone every time. In fact I think it’s probably easier not to help.

Last year I was having a really difficult time, I was sick, I was working full-time, my husband was away and I was figuring out being a new mum. However I was certainly not badly off by any stretch of the imagination. A friend of mine turned up one evening with a beautiful cooked meal, bread and dessert. I had no idea she was going to do it, I certainly hadn’t asked for it (too proud for that) so I was pretty stunned. It had a huge effect on me. It made my night, my week and possibly even my month not having to cook that night and to be able to just relax. The small act of my friend sharing a meal had had a disproportionate effect on me.

I think we miss this feeling, because despite being connected more and more through technology we are disconnected from one another personally. We have lost sight of the effects small acts of kindness can have. It doesn’t always have to be donations to charity; it can be making a meal for a friend, lending someone something, helping someone with some work. That small act of kindness can have disproportionate effects and spawn further kindness. After having that meal baked for me I signed up to a group called Cakes for Kids – South Auckland. I now bake 2 birthday cakes a month for 5 year olds whose families cannot afford a cake. Most of the time I don’t get feedback from the kids about the cakes but sometimes I’ll get a photo of the child with their cake. The smiles are heart melting.

This post really isn’t meant as a call to arms, well maybe it should be? More a note on what some people are missing out on and that everyone has something to give even if it is time spent with someone who needs company or companionship. David has some really cool ideas on here about social initiatives and weaving giving into your business practice. This is about weaving it into your psyche and personal life, and perhaps starting your own line of happy altruistic dominos.

Erica is a researcher, mother of one, self-development enthusiast and baker. She is from New Zealand so we must all be jealous of her beautiful running photos. She spends her time attempting to be a little better, going a little further and a little kinder.

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