At my mother’s knee I was taught that it is better to give than to receive. She was teaching me not to be selfish. As a small child, this idea set up a huge contradiction within me. It felt good to take a toy from my little sister or from a friend. It felt bad when I was told to share. Where does such a thing come from within a child?
From ego. We’re all born with it and it never leaves us. It is a powerful engine that pushes us through life. Initially it is a life-saving force, causing us to take in whatever we need to in order to survive. Remember the squalling baby? Ego has served mankind well in the building of societies, from clans to a global community in order to fulfill basic needs. However, we now have everything we need to survive, and we have most things we want to live in comfort.
In the 1950s people were exhausted by the scarcities engendered by two world wars and a great depression in less than half a century. We were ready to have things again and the economic strategy to boost the post-war economy was to manufacture and sell goods that people wanted, not necessarily needed. The advertising industry grew and promised us the “American dream.” Consumers bought and bought and the economy boomed, creating a fertile field within which the ego could flex its muscles. Fast forward to the 21st century where we have been turned into voracious consumers at the expense of the earth’s resources and the well-being of mankind. Our society could not be more opposite to the law of altruism.
But nature will have her way, and we are undergoing a mandatory examination of our relationships with each other and our way of life by the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. We are watching the crumbling of all our major institutions and the corruption and ego that permeate them is being glaringly exposed. As we endure the challenges we face we know deep down inside that we can be better.
Altruism is defined as the practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others. I’m seeing this attitude deepen among people, aren’t you? Performing small and large acts of kindness and help among us are becoming part of life, because we feel how dependent we are on each other. Despite quarantines and social distancing, we are figuring out how to assist those in need. And we should keep doing it, because these acts are altruistic, and the more we demonstrate our care and concern for each other by doing these things, the stronger the inner attitude toward connection thrives.
Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do.
The egoistic force does not disappear; rather, it is balanced by the altruistic force added to it. Then we will work with two forces of nature: egoism (reception) and altruism (bestowal), striving to match ourselves to Nature’s altruism.
So let’s aspire to that. What have we got to lose except meanness, greed, war-mongering, dirty politics, misery? We have multiple daily choices, every time we create the intentions behind our actions, to contribute to the collective attitude of love your neighbor as yourself.