Monday, January 31, 2011


Altruism is apparently not inherent, so says an economist named John List. Instead, one might suggest that altruism in its purest form is rare and that greed is inherent. I suppose that to answer this question we have to get to the root of why someone commits an act of service, or why someone gives (regardless of time, services or money). The suggestion by this economist is that people give (in this country primarily) in order to get something in return, regardless of the benefit, and not just to feel better.

The idea is that thanks to generous tax deductions and notoriety for having given something, people are attracted more to the idea of what you get when you give than what the receiver gets. Taken into proper context it would seem that anyone who gives sees greater value in the financial post benefit than the gift itself.

Explaining this shows us that we see little benefit to the recipient of any gift. When we give something away we seem to disregard the feelings and interests of who we give to almost as if they have no face or name. We don't give to unknown buildings and countries without citizens, we give to individuals. When we give there is a face and a name attached and at times there is a real need for that gift.

We cannot take the humanity out of giving and to that end, we can honestly say that the suggestion of greed being inherent as opposed to altruism is questionable, to say the least. It doesn't take much to see need and many people in many countries respond when there is a crisis. It may be true that here in America we see a back end benefit to our generosity but the first thought that enters your mind when you hear of or see a crisis is one of compassion and not of your tax deductible gift.

I have often wondered what our giving would look like if there were no tax benefits. Mr. List’s study shows us what regular people in real world situations would do, or so he claims. What does not enter in that study (the “Director” analysis) is any background information of any of the test subjects (who are mostly college students by the way). Another major problem is the study only uses a small microcosm of the population to study a vast array of humanity, across races, ethnicities, creeds, religious beliefs, socio-economic makeup and possibly the biggest contributing factor; how someone was raised in relation to giving.

It is easy to pick apart an analysis by anyone, but in this case I seek more to question the very concept of altruism and service to others, rather than the idea that we tend to give because of the financial benefit we receive.

Consider this; when you give anything to anyone, you are committing an act of service. Call it goodwill to men, call it civic duty; call it what you like but there is an action taking place and that action is called service. Interestingly, when you join the military you are often referred to as being in the service. In this case your service is to your country and your commander in chief, as well as to your family and friends. That is a mighty act of service and there are many others like it.
Regardless of the service there is always a sacrifice on the part of the person serving. Whether time or money or a lifetime, we make a choice to sacrifice something when we give; when we serve others. If greed was inherent, we would never serve unless there was a benefit for us and I promise you that nothing would be accomplished in this place. We would melt into beating each other senseless to gain our glory. There would be no concern for others if greed was indeed inherent.

This should be good news for anyone reading this. Service to others is possible on a daily basis, from small things to life changing events. Our very lives can be in constant service from sun up to sun down, making a difference in lives across all spectrums.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

why do you?

Why do you do what you do? Think about your daily routine, the steps you take as you first awake to the point when you lie down again. For some people those are drastic steps. I think about those in the military or those on rotation at a hospital. I think of police officers and fire fighters and folks who work the swing shift. Then of course there are the millions who slog through their day with such similarity that if we were able to shift a few thousand faces around they might not be able to tell the difference.

So you have a mental picture painted of your day, so to speak; now answer the question. Why do you do what you do? This is not meant to be vague but exploratory. If you go for the pat answer that you do it for the money, then so be it. Maybe you do it for the fame or the notoriety, if so then good for you. Whatever the reason, I know you have one. But here is the concerning thought; you do what you do because it's what you've done for quite some time now. If this is so then you, my friend, are in a rut.

Could you pull yourself out of that rut if you wanted to? Early pioneers that traveled west often came in wagons. The trails they carved created ruts because of the wagon wheels. The earliest explorers made their own way but those that followed did so by staying in the ruts of the wagons that had gone before. In some cases, ruts were so deep that even if a family or group wanted to change course, they couldn't because they could not lift their wagon out of the rut and they would travel for hundreds of miles because of it.

The ruts we get ourselves in are often because of a similar nature, but instead of a tangible track we can see, there is often a psychological road that we travel…one that we would have a very difficult time of getting off of unless something drastic happened.

The drastic is our worst nightmare. No one wants it but we all know it's possible. Career plans get altered, medical crises happen, people die...things change. The inevitable is that we will all face something like this in our lifetime; some folks will endure changes like this many times. In those instances we find ourselves out of the routine, out of the mundane, away from the norm and of course; out of a rut.

Another truth in all of this is that some folks actually like being in a rut. The simplicity of a routine is easy to follow, almost mindless if you will. If your day to day can occur without much thought, the idea is that you have more capacity to concentrate on different things. The unfortunate thing is here that very few people have that kind of capacity, or choose to use it. Most people exist in that mindless place and become complacent, not because they are stupid but because they are lazy. Getting out of a rut will always take a great deal of work and often some sacrifice.

Our lives are full of choices but most of them are like rhetorical questions; we know the answers. The occasional tough question that comes along may jar us from our routine for a moment but it will not derail us. There are only two ways to get out of a rut; circumstances that are beyond your control or a conscience decision on your part followed by the actions necessary to complete the change.

I would hate to suggest that your rut is a bad thing but often it is unhealthy. Consider for a moment that the reason you do what you do is because you have not thought of any good alternatives. Now would be a good time to think of options. The main reason for this is the fact that if you don’t, that unforeseen circumstance is waiting right around the corner. Our ruts are our own doing and unless we plan ahead, it is quite possible that we will travel for hundreds of miles with little to no choice.

I get why you do what you do….do you?