The title may conjure up the Ayn Randian philosophy of the ‘Virtue of Selfishness’ or ‘Atlas Shrugged’. The article does take some of Ayn Rand’s philosophy and apply this to today’s life. Altruism as defined by Auguste Comte, calls for living for the sake of others. The belief that one must place the welfare of others over our own self-interest. That a person must become a ‘sacrificial lamb’ and self-sacrifice as a value and duty. Other interests are subordinate to your own interests and its is ones’ moral obligation to live life in this manner.
Ayn Rand’s definition of selfishness is that a person has the right to live for their own self. It does not mean the person can do whatever they want. Morality and ethics are part of the society’s culture and laws that need to be obeyed. The person has a right to live a life of reason, purpose and self-esteem.
It is not my intention to uphold or debate the Randian Philosophy, rather make the point that in order to be altruistic a person must be selfish. Let’s look at the basic needs of the Altruistic person that need to be met for the Altruist to help others.
Health. Too often we have seen people neglect their own health in order to make life easier for others. While this may work in the short term, eventually your disregard for your health will catch up with you. The long hours at the office, the second job, unhealthy eating habits, the striving care giver. The selfish motive of Altruism should be to place your health above all else as a rational interest, in order to pursue the unselfish goals.
Wealth. There needs to be ‘enough’ to meet the basic needs of the Altruist. We have seen the exemplary charitable behavior of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet who have more to give than most people can imagine. In order for the ‘normal’ person to contribute either in time or money, both of which are interchangeable, there should be a buffer of wealth that allows the person to contribute in a meaningful way.
Mental Fortitude. The Altruist needs to develop the appropriate mental strength so they can immerse themselves in the aid of others. It means at times taking the ‘selfish’ step to devote time and energy in their own mental wellbeing. To feed their soul with the rest, reflection and recuperation it needs.
To quote Ayn Rand from the Fountainhead: “To say “I Love You” one must know first how to say the I”. The I must be self-aware, self-accepting and strong.