The Delicate Balance of Altruism


Whenever someone claims to stand for something, it is reasonable to ask what he or she stands against. Love for one thing does not necessarily equal hatred for another, and vice versa. But, hatred for one thing can be disguised as love for another.

Courtesy of Louis

Desire for Change.

Just as something in nature has to have a reason to adapt, a person has to have a reason to change. So, let’s suppose a person has a desire to change something in his or her life. It is not simply enough to want to change – it is necessary that he or she take active steps toward making the desire for that change become a reality.

What’s more, the desire for change has to be greater than the desire to stay the same. The desire to be thin has to be greater than the desire to not be overweight, just as the desire to be sober has to be greater than the desire to not be drunk.

There is a difference.

Solutions.

Solution based practices in paraprofessional and professional psychology are effective for this very reason. They are rooted in self-efficacy and the individual’s motivation to change. Ulterior motives will inevitably be rooted out because if and when a change does not occur, the practice requires a reflection on what the individual did or did not do to support that change.

The greater the desire for change, the greater the behavior that supports that change will manifest itself.

Orwellian.

Whenever someone claims to stand for something, it is reasonable to ask what he or she stands against. Love for one thing does not necessarily equal hatred for another, and vice versa. But, hatred for one thing can be disguised as love for another. If you feed a deer a carrot, does that suggest you are against hunting?

This is especially true if that someone has some power or influence regarding change to public policy. It is not simply enough to want to change a structural truism in society, given some of the potential ramifications. The civil rights movement of the 1960’s was littered with government bureaucracy disguised as altruism.

And this is why considering motive is important. There is power in appearing to be altruistic. In The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell essentially proposes this question: Does the person claiming to love the poor, love the poor more than they hate the rich?

Hidden Dangers.

What is more dangerous, then; maliciousness, or a false sense of altruism? The Salvation Army espouses the motto, “Doing The Most Good.” Few stop to think how such a claim is operationalized and give to The Salvation Army, simply because it feels good to give to those who do the most good.

This is not meant to question the integrity of The Salvation Army, mind you, but is more intended as a critique of those who give, and of those (namely, white males) who claim to be altruistic and fighting for equity.

Simply because someone claims altruism does not make it so.

Social and Cognitive Currency.

There is cognitive and social currency in “white guilt.” There is cognitive currency in that white males can self-soothe and find their own identity in equity culture. There is social currency in displaying pronouns in a Twitter bio because it automatically means networking, and networking means book sales, podcast downloads, and a platform.

And a platform means power.

Claiming to have white guilt can give one a sense of altruism without having to actually do anything. Having the right pronouns in your bio can automatically put you in a special circle, one people without pronouns in their bio cannot be a part of.

Twitter is undoubtedly FULL of these altruistic people. It is important for those that are doing the work of actual equity to weed these people out.

Bring it to the Table.

Whether it truly exists or not, it would be wrong for someone that does not truly recognize or even agree with a white guilt / white privilege narrative to espouse those talking points on social media simply to bank some social or cognitive currency.

I would ask: Should the straight white male even have pronouns in his Twitter bio?

By remaining true to personal convictions, one brings a truer, more authentic self to the table. Changing to gain cognitive and social currency not REAL change — that’s change to get power, to self soothe, to give without giving self. And it won’t work.

The desire to be seen as altruistic, I believe, often outweighs the actual work it takes to truly become altrusitc.

Thus, it is not wrong to question someone’s altruism or the claim that they are for equity. Claims have to be operationalized in order for them to manifest themselves in truth.