𝐎𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐀𝐧𝐱𝐢𝐞𝐭𝐲 𝐨𝐟 𝐀𝐧𝐚𝐥𝐲𝐳𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐀𝐥𝐭𝐫𝐮𝐢𝐬𝐦 (being a “good” person)
Do we do good things for others, or for ourselves?
Do motivations matter?
Are all actions inherently selfish?
Hello, my treasured friends,
Some philosophical musings on this blessed day.
Recently, a friend of mine posted on social media about an experience of existential dissonance:
After helping someone (with a gift of money and food), he tried to ascertain whether he’d acted solely for the benefit of that person…
…or for his own immediate satisfaction. (And, the potential validation he’d receive on social media.)
The question of whether altruism is “real” in absolute terms or exists solely relative to our own experience (and is therefore prompted by self-serving emotional fulfillment) is one of the core inquiries driving our examination of the motivation(s) of the human psyche.
In the current social environment, in which discussion about service to other people seems to be:
are picked apart,
and even weaponized,
Leading us to the questions I posed above, centering on whether doing something of service is truly for others or simply virtue signaling.
There’s angst in the asking, a philosophical black hole that’ll lead to either enlightenment or despair or both.
In the age of social media, the question is both larger and more visible, creating more opportunity AND more judgment.
This has been bandied about by rhetoricians, poets, and navel-gazing gurus of all stripes for centuries.
So we can perhaps take heart in knowing the discomfort inherent to such examination of ourselves (and our actions) is a link in a chain far older than the humblebragging hashtaggery endemic to Instagram.
The practice has value, though, and there are a few things I’d recommend to guide you.
These are both conceptual, and quite necessary.
Should you be interested in reading philosophy as a practice for developing a behavioral framework by which to live, may I suggest the work of the dueling German titans of philosophy, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, who held opposing views on this issue.
Secondly—and I cannot stress this enough—, cultivate objectivity. Nothing will help you analyze your own actions like space from them.
Whether you do it through storytelling, therapy, meditation, or plant medicines, create the space necessary to foster objectivity.
Thirdly, for the purposes of alleviating self-judgment, consider the implication of examining your own motivation: the very act of asking, “did I do that for them or for me?” is indicative of both a kind spirit and an awakened mind, both predisposed to focus on service.
Lastly, rather than drive yourself to madness, step back and look at things from result, rather than reason.
Perhaps it doesn’t actually matter. To take a quote from a recent Netflix comedy, “you don’t have to be a good person, as long as you do good things.”
Focus on the pragmatic over the ephemeral. Perhaps it is the Stoics who, in the end, have the answer, best stated by Marcus Aurelius:
“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”
So long as the good deed is done, and the ripples thereof shape the world for the better, regardless of your ego’s involvement.
Ah, the absurdity of humanity: we find ways to make ourselves feel bad about doing good.
For my part, I tend to make it simpler: it’s rarely wrong to do right.
Moral objectivism is hard. Being kind is relatively easy.
It makes me feel good, so much the better.