Basics of altruism 

Most of us are familiar with the idea of altruism. That being that for survival of the species, at some point humans had to collaborate to be greater than the sum of their parts. And in the theory of altruism, the collaboration efforts can be traded into the group with the hope that the net outcome taken out is positive for everyone. 

Everyone gives and takes in an altruism group. And whilst you might give to one person, you might take from another. The system only works if everyone buys into it, I think. 

Altruism is the idea that humans will do good things for each other, even when there is no immediate personal gain. It’s good in the collective bank. There might be (but not necessarily) some personal gain paid forward when all the other humans follow the same paradigm. It’s a big altruistic melting pot 

True altruism, therefore, is not taking account of any action individually undertaken. There’s no ledger of what you need to do for others, and what you are owed. It’s just doing good without expectation of anything in return. 

Reciprocity on the other hand is altruism with a ledger. 

My guess is it’s much easier to practice. Because it’s bite size and perhaps is even encouraged by our capitalist society.

For example, if I look after your fish, I might expect that next time I ask you for a favour you would look after my plants. If I buy you a coffee, next time you get the coffee. It’s social equality. Consumer equals. Balance of power. 

As I see it, reciprocity is altruism in check. 

But I am starting to think that running a reciprocity model is very selfish. For example, if I look after someone’s kids, I might think they will look after mine. What I might not realise is that they are looking after their neighbours kids. So the altruism is balanced but I didn’t get anything in return for my good favour. Should I police this? Or just accept it. 

Since we can’t control the  actions of others, I am leaning towards the idea that it’s best to do nice things for other people and not to keep a check. If they pay it back it’s their choice. 

Furthermore, it’s best to let people do nice things for you without feeling a need to do something back. This could be difficult for some people (including me) and could cause conflict of the other person feels ripped off, but ultimately you have to let someone own their distaste at you if you don’t reciprocate directly to them. That’s not your problem. 

This is one step closer to zen. 

Zen being the acceptance of a situation as it is, without constant assessment, comparison or attempts at controlling others. 

My guess is only the zen are truly altruistic; and are truly able to receive the gifts of altruism without feeling the need to directly reciprocate. 

And zen is a very hard state to reach.


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