definition of altruism

Understood as one of the most admirable and inherent qualities of the human being, altruism is the ability to act selflessly for the benefit of others who may need help or who are in inferior conditions. Altruism is considered to be an inherent condition of the human being since he, when living in society, interacts with other individuals and develops all kinds of feelings of compassion, empathy and love that lead him to act in a disinterested and compassionate way.

The word altruism has its origin in an old French word, altruism, which means giving yourself to help those in need. More specifically "altrui" from French, manifests "from the other"

A general profile of the altruistic individual

It is about someone who thinks of others and not only of himself. Therefore, he is a person with empathy and is usually willing to help those who need it.

As a general rule, he acts disinterestedly, that is, without seeking a benefit in exchange for his generous action. It is very likely that the altruistic person acts out of love for others or because of some type of beliefs or moral values.

Altruism implies in most cases acting in favor of another even when the result of that action may be detrimental or harmful to the person who carried it out. In this sense, the altruistic behaviors shown by human beings and other living beings are opposed to the Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest since it implies complete surrender despite knowing the possibility of death or extinction.

Examples from everyday life

The student who helps his classmates to do homework is a clear example of an altruistic person.

The same happens with those people who selflessly and voluntarily collaborate with social entities.

Missionaries who work with oppressed peoples and in dire circumstances are undoubtedly altruistic.

Altruism is one of the elements most celebrated by all traditional religions, especially Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism among others. For all of them, the human being is a noble being created in the likeness of his god and therefore acts naturally for the benefit of those who need him most. In the case of Christianity, the delivery of Jesus to sacrifice with the objective of saving Humanity from sin is the most obvious and well-known example of altruism.

Are we altruistic or selfish?

There is no definitive answer to this question. If we take into account that all living beings fight for their survival, humans are selfish. However, it is evident that certain behaviors move away from the fight for one's own survival and focus on the benefit of others.

Altruism has a paradoxical component, since disinterested action can hide a dose of selfishness. Thus, if I help my neighbor to carry out a move, I may think that in return I will obtain a certain benefit (for example, when I need it, I will be able to ask him for a favor or I will simply feel good giving him my help).

There are many attitudes that normally accompany altruism and that have to do with behaviors considered ethical and moral. Among these attitudes we must mention compassion, love for others, empathy, solidarity, etc. In the same way, there are also attitudes and ways of acting opposed to altruism and some of them can be selfishness, individualism and the search for self-satisfaction regardless of the need of others.

In the Animal Kingdom

Altruism also exists among animals. In this sense, the dolphin is an animal with disinterested behaviors, as it helps its species when they are attacked or are in danger. Some reptiles create cooperative structures to protect their natural space. Generous attitudes are also seen in the behavior of elephants and gorillas. Some bats regurgitate the blood of their prey to offer it to other conspecifics that have no food.

The above examples show that animals have feelings of empathy towards other members of the same species. In the case of dogs, their degree of empathy can be focused towards human beings, since they are capable of sacrificing their lives to help their masters if they are in danger.