Freeing Yourself From A Bad Idea Of Goodness
So many of us are brought up to believe we must choose between helping ourselves by brutishly walking all over others or helping others by altruistically sacrificing ourselves. Selfishness is ruled out as an alternative by being equated with brutishness. We are taught that, since brutishness is bad, “being good” means “sacrificing yourself to others.” As a result, most of us adopt the morality of altruism, and “others” become the central focus of our lives. I am including the following modified excerpt from my upcoming book, This Is Your Life: No Apology Needed, to help you see how trying to live up to altruism’s idea of goodness can impact your life.
Altruism: Sacrificing Yourself To Others
What is altruism? Altruism literally means “other-ism,” or the “worship” of others, just for being “others,” just for not being you. Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language defines altruism as “unselfish concern for the welfare of others.” Auguste Compte, the man who coined the word “altruism,” said that to be a good person, you must place other people’s interests above your own interests.
The trouble is, when you try to cultivate an “unselfish concern for the welfare of others” you put other people’s interests ahead of your own, and you end up turning your back on your own life. It is wonderful to help others, but that doesn’t mean belittling your own interests. Helping others can enhance your own survival and bring both the helper and the “helpee” great satisfaction and joy. In fact, civilized society is built on the premise that people can be of great value to one another and that everyone benefits by engaging in life-promoting relationships, both business and personal. And businesses are built upon helping others: if a business didn’t make products and services that people wanted, it would have no customers.
Selfishly Helping Others Vs. Altruistically Helping Others
What makes the difference between selfishly helping others and altruistically helping others? The difference is in how we treat ourselves in the process. If we selfishly treat each human life, including our own, as sacred, we can enjoy relationships of mutual benefit and respect. But if we altruistically treat each human life, including our own, as something to sacrifice to somebody else, we end up with relationships of servitude and dependency.
You yourself have probably been a victim of altruism by using its standard of selfless sacrifice to undermine your own precious right to pursue your own dreams, your own health, and your own happiness. It is no accident that tyrants preach altruism, because appealing to your benevolent desire to help others is the most effective way to get you to surrender your body and soul to their causes.
Altruism: A Wolf In Compassionate Clothing
Everybody, including “others,” has a self. An idea of goodness that says you are bad for having a self condemns everyone from birth, for just being. When you think about it, saying that it’s bad to take care of yourself reveals a deep-seated hatred for human beings. Saying that human beings must justify their lives by turning their backs on their lives is a twisted idea of morality that destroys your selfhood, which is yourself. It may come as a complete surprise to you that the beautiful-sounding idea of altruism is actually a big bad wolf disguised in compassionate clothing. Here’s what the big bad wolf preaches:
§ Altruism Says YOU Don’t Count
The altruistic ethics of putting other people’s interests above your own is in direct contradiction to the Founding Father ethics of each individual’s right to his own life and pursuit of happiness. Altruism makes no allowances for selfishly taking care of your own interests at your own expense without harming anyone, or for being selfishly concerned with the welfare of others, or for caring for others for mutual benefit. What counts under altruism is self-denial for the sake of others. Your needs, values, goals and dreams don’t count.
Altruism tells you to disown yourself and become an “un-self,” a “non-self,” that is, selfless. Altruism condemns anything having to do with yourself and glorifies anything having to do with others. It is concerned with benefiting anyone except you. In order to be a genuine altruist, your concern must have nothing in it for you and nothing to do with you, and preferably cause you loss, mental anguish, physical suffering, or even death.
§ Altruism Says “Anything Goes” So Long As It’s For Others
A proper morality is a guide for living your life, whether you are by yourself or with other people. But altruism only tells you who should benefit from your life, not how to live it. In effect, altruism says “anything goes” as long as it’s for others or their causes. Both small-time and big-time bullies love altruism because altruism lets them get away with anything by claiming that it is “for the sake of others” or some great cause. In this way, altruism puts everyone at risk of being victimized for the benefit of some special group or cause.
§ Altruism Says Morality Is Providing For Others
My favorite childhood fable was The Grasshopper And The Ant. Remember how the grasshopper sang away the summer while the ant worked diligently to store food for the winter? And remember how the grasshopper came begging in the wintertime when he had nothing to eat?
In the original version, the ant is considered good for taking responsibility for her life – by thinking ahead and earning her own keep. The grasshopper is considered bad for not taking responsibility for his life, by ignoring his needs and then trying to live off the ant. The grasshopper is considered greedy for wanting to take what he hasn’t earned from the ant who has done all the work. This is a story to help young people understand the concept of justice that says that a person should reap according to what he or she sows. It teaches children that they will get out according to what they put in. It ties rewards to actions, it introduces the idea of cause and effect, and it illustrates the concepts of “earn” and “deserve.” That’s a lot for one nursery story to accomplish!
In contrast, altruism would say that the ant should have put the grasshopper’s needs above her own needs out of compassion for the grasshopper, because he was poor and hungry. Altruism would praise the grasshopper for being selflessly unconcerned with his needs, and would condemn the ant for being selfishly concerned with hers. The ant would be considered greedy for refusing to share her hard-earned food with the needy grasshopper. Altruism’s version of the story teaches a child that neediness is more important than earning and deserving, and more important than what is fair and just. It teaches a child to honor people who don’t earn their living and to condemn those who do. And it teaches a child that the needs of others are more important than his or her own needs, and that the neediness of some human beings obligates other human beings to take care of them. In this way altruism teaches you to voluntarily enslave yourself to other people’s needs.
§ Altruism Says To Turn Your Life Over To Others
Altruism tells you that you do not exist in your own right and that you must justify your existence by sacrificing yourself to others This means that in order to be good you must give up your selfish concerns or causes to help others with their selfish concerns or causes, and you must turn your back on your own well-being for the sake of other people’s well-being. Under altruism you are just another cog in the wheel of someone else’s moral agenda, with no moral standing of your own.
In primitive times, rulers sacrificed human beings in sacrificial fires to try to control the forces of nature. Altruism still calls for human sacrifice, but today’s version isn’t as obvious. Listen to any political, religious or media authority talk and count the number of times he or she urges you to “make sacrifices.” Instead of dragging you directly to the sacrificial fire, today’s authorities use altruism to steal your life away. By accepting their idea that being good means being altruistic, you feel guilty every time you do something to further your own life. You end up sacrificing your life, instead of living it.
Altruism Makes A Devil Out Of You And An Angel Out Of Others
You can see that:
- Altruism sets YOU up as The Bad Guy
- Altruism sets OTHERS up as The Good Guys
This renders you helpless to help yourself or go after your goals. It strips you of your selfhood and makes you feel like a non-person. It enslaves you to others and makes others dependent on you. It makes it impossible for you live as a full-fledged human being.
The Tragic Truth About Altruism
You can see that altruism asks you to apologize for existing. It asks each one of us to renounce our own selfhood. Far from promoting kindness and good will toward human beings, altruism tells us to betray our own lives and put our own selves in servitude to others. We end up acting out of duty instead of generosity, feeling resentment instead of benevolence, and relating to others out of shame and humility instead of out of mutual respect. People who altruistically renounce themselves for the sake of others present an open invitation to bullies in both their personal and political relationships. Contrary to what most people think, altruism does not paint a pretty picture.
Working Women Are Caught in the Middle
After being raised on the altruistic belief that her life did not belong to her, one of the women I surveyed said to me, “It doesn’t matter what I want to do – it’s a matter of what everybody else wants me to do.” You can see how altruism can make a woman betray her own goals and dreams.
As working women, we can’t help but feel the effects of altruism’s relentless anti-self messages. By attacking our very selfhood, altruism threatens our basic need for self-preservation and prevents us each from fulfilling our full potential. No wonder there are so many self-help books!
When you disown yourself, your goals, and your independence for the sake of “other-worship,” you end up living a life of self-denial, self-belittlement, and dependence on others. You allow others to become the go-between for your life, and you enslave yourself to their agenda. And you lose out on your magnificent opportunity to live your own one-of-a-kind life.
WARNING: You cannot give up your idea of goodness – even if it is a harmful one – unless you have a better idea of goodness to put in its place. That’s why you will want to discover a healthier Recipe For Living that enables you to thrive as a joyous, valuing, achieving, full-fledged human being.