Last Updated on October 4, 2021
What is altruism, and is it Important for Work?
Since the dawn of time, the immense joy and satisfaction felt by putting smiles on the faces of others has always been vivid, pure, and glorious. As time went on, humanity has forsaken this purity for selfish desires. However, a lot of people still embrace this purity without expecting anything in return. As is often said, “there might be hope for humanity yet.” The selfless concern for the well-being of others, the innate desire to help others; these concepts are embodied in the framework of altruism!
In the course of this article, you will come to understand the concept of Altruism vis a vis Ubuntu, the importance and pitfalls of altruism, as well as the types of altruism. After some thought, you would be able to decide whether altruism is a good or bad thing and how to strike a reasonable balance. Without further delay, let us begin!
What is Altruism?
Altruism is the innate and unselfish concern for the well-being of other people. It involves doing things for your fellow human without expecting anything in return. It is the belief that the well-being of other people is equally or more important than that of oneself. If an individual is truly selfless, there will be no ulterior motives to help another person.
Some philosophers argue that there is no such thing as true altruism. They say that even if a person doesn’t realize it, they may be engaging in charitable acts to make themselves feel better or gain some form of recognition. Some argue that some people instinctively feel the urge to help anyone in need without any form of compensation. Regardless of your beliefs, we can all agree that this concept in totality, is a subject of intrigue worthy of further exploration.
Altruism Vs Ubuntu
The conceptual clarification of altruism would be utterly incomplete without discussing the concept of Ubuntu. The philosophy behind Ubuntu can be personified by these five words: “I am, because you are.”
Ubuntu refers to the concept of togetherness, shared experiences, and justice for all. This concept essentially speaks to the fact that a person is who they are due to the experiences they’ve had throughout their life. These experiences wouldn’t be possible without other people. In essence, we are all products of our shared experiences with others.
If you truly understand the concept mentioned above, you should be able to see where I’m headed. How does altruism tie in with the concept of Ubuntu? Since Ubuntu relates with oneness through shared experiences, why wouldn’t you want to selflessly help those with whom you’ve shared those life-defining experiences? In essence, you can think of altruism as one of the pillars of Ubuntu!
Now that you’ve grasped that concept, it’s time for you to learn about the various forms of altruism.
Types of Altruism
Like most concepts, altruism comes in various forms. Here are some of the types of altruism:
1. Genetic Altruism
Genetic altruism is also called nepotistic altruism. This form of altruism involves behaving in a manner that benefits your family members. This phenomenon is exemplified by parent-child relationships where parents will sacrifice their money, time, and energy for the sake of their children without expecting anything in return. Nepotistic altruism is perhaps one of the earliest forms of altruism.
As is often said, “Blood is thicker than water.” Many sacrifices that seem difficult to make on a normal day appear simple when doing it for family. Think of your grandma that sends you money for your birthday and Christmas without ever asking for anything in return. That, in totality, embodies genetic altruism.
2. Group Selected Altruism
This form of altruism is based on group connections or affiliations. In essence, this is where your understanding of Ubuntu comes into play! Typically, this involves people directing their efforts towards helping others in their social group or circle. It could also involve directing efforts towards social causes that are personal to you instead of randomly giving to charity. For example, we can take the case of an individual who lost a friend to suicide. This individual is more likely to donate towards suicide prevention programs than other charitable causes.
3. Pure Altruism
Some philosophers call this “Impossible Altruism.” As the name implies, this is the most unadulterated form of altruism. It is not affected by genetic or group bias; it is simple, pure, and unfiltered. Pure altruism is also referred to as moral altruism. Pure altruism involves helping others without expecting any form of reciprocity or reward. Sometimes, this form of altruism comes at significant risk to oneself. Take, for example, rushing into a burning building to save the life of someone you don’t even know. Perhaps this is why a lot of philosophers find the concept absurd.
4. Reciprocal Altruism
Some people call this “Fake Altruism.” It owes its name to the fact that it defeats the main purpose of altruism. This form of altruism deals with good deeds done with reciprocity in mind. This reciprocity implies that you take part in these good acts expecting the same to be done in return one day. This notion is akin to the principle of karma.
Take, for example, the case of a nice friend who helps his struggling friend pay his rent in one month, knowing that if the roles were reversed, his friend would do the same. Did he help his friend from the kindness of his heart? Maybe. Did he help his friend expecting the same thing to be done to him in the future? Yes. If he knew his friend wouldn’t do the same for him, would he have helped? Probably not. These are the issues with reciprocal altruism.
Now that you’ve become acquainted with the various forms of altruism, we can discuss the importance of altruism in the workplace as well as the pitfalls of altruism.
The Importance and Pitfalls of Altruism in The Workplace
It is often said that altruism brings more meaning to our lives. When we observe altruistic behaviours in the workplace and our environment in general, it inspires us to do the same. This selflessness builds up trust, reliability and harmony in the workplace. As is often the case, a happier workforce is more productive!
The phenomenon of altruism in the workplace can be best explained by what scientists call “helper’s high.” In essence, helper’s high refers to that feeling of pleasure felt by contributing to the well-being of another person. This helper’s high, in turn, boosts our well-being by replacing work stress with the feeling of satisfaction and harmony.
If done properly (true altruism), it will lead to a feeling of connectedness in the workplace. This connectedness, in turn, enables colleagues to work as a unit as opposed to working as separate individuals. The former will lead to a rapid increase in productivity while the latter causes friction in the workplace.
However, if reciprocal altruism is practiced, issues will surely arise. If workers consistently do things for others to receive something in return, it is only a matter of time before it becomes problematic. All it takes is for one worker to not give something in return, then the faux togetherness bound by the shackles of reciprocity will shatter immediately.
In conclusion, I strongly believe that altruism is neither a good nor dreadful thing. It is akin to power. You can’t say that power is a good or terrible thing. It depends on how it is used.
There must be a balance of some sort. I like to call this balance “hybrid altruism.” This form still preserves the purity of altruism to an extent, but becomes selective when it comes to endangering oneself. I genuinely believe that you should help someone in need if you can. However, you must strike a balance between this and keeping yourself safe.
In the wise words of Joshua Osenga, a renowned author, “Balance is a feeling derived from being whole and complete; it’s a sense of harmony. It is essential to maintaining quality in life and work”. Altruism seeks to preserve this harmony and maintain work and life quality. Thus, if you don’t have that feeling of harmony, you probably aren’t practicing true altruism !