Some Observations on Altruism



Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines Altruism as “willingness to do things which bring advantages to other people, even if it results in disadvantage for yourself”. In Persian, Altruism may be translated as Enssaan Doosti, Bashar Doosti, Nou@ Dousti (in which @ stands for the letter Ain), Az Khod Gozashtegi, Eissaar, etc.Oxford Dictionary identifies it as a term meaning “disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others”. Webster Dictionary describes Altruism as the “consideration for other people without any thought of self as a principle of conduct”. According to the Free Encyclopedia of Wikipedia, the “Altruism is a concern for the welfare of others”. In this article,the Various Views on Altruism, Examples of Altruistic People, and the Altruism in Persian Culture will be briefly pointed out, and Some Quotations about Altruism, and few Altruism Poems will be presented.

Various Views on Altruism
The term Altruism was invented in the 19th century by the French philosopher Auguste Comte, who devised it as the opposite of egoism. Herbert Spencer and John Stuart Mill, English contemporaries of Comte, accepted the worth of altruism but argued that the true moral aim should be the welfare of society, rather than that of individuals (Columbia Encyclopedia, 2007).
In her essay on the Reality of Altruism, Blogger Jeannette wrote that, “Altruism is a somewhat magical concept that we desperately believe to be true. Yet, with the natural tendencies of humanity as an entity, and the deliberation of cruel behavior that is witnessed throughout the world, it is difficult to assume altruism is a reality if not on the verge of extinction. I propose that altruism does indeed exist and that it must be nurtured to survive.
we must rely on the fact that it does show up in life. And when it does, it lights up our belief system in such a way that it multiplies courage and perpetuates altruism to spread in generous ways. So how do we know when altruism is genuine rather than a façade? When celebrities donate to causes or exert themselves in humanitarian endeavors, is it just for publicity or is it truly for the cause without any care for how they are perceived in doing such acts? It seems that faith is the only way to truly discern the existence of altruism, and if it really is not evident, at least good deeds are being tended to.

In a world in which we are all guilty of acting upon reward and doing only what promotes personal success or gratification, it is refreshing to have such a concept as altruism alive in the study of psychology. I submit that this is not merely a myth or a fantastical proposition, but that altruism is in fact a part of humanity whether it is uncovered or not. It seems that it must be pruned and cared for so that when it occurs, it will be embraced more readily and cherished as a privilege of being a part of the human race” (Jeannette, 2009).
Examples of Altruistic People

Some good examples of altruistic people could be Martin Luther King, who recognized the need of basic civil rights for all people and was willing to place himself in great danger to support his beliefs. He was ultimately killed for trying to improve the lives of other people. Another example could be Mother Teresa who was a well-known figure for the help and work she did in under developed countries, and who’s activity seemed to always be at the altruistic end of a spectrum of motivations. More recent examples of altruistic people could be, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, for their work with the live aid concerts which raise money for poverty in Africa, or Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela for the many things he has done throughout his life, most recently, his support in the fight against aids or his opposition to the Iraq war (D. McDonnell, 2009).
Altruism in Persian Culture
Altruism behavior has been always considered as a very significant part of Persian culture. The great Iranian Sufi poets like Mawlana Rumi, Saadi, Hafiz, and Attar in many occasions praised altruism in their poetry. In Sufism, the concept of Eisaar is the notion of ‘preferring others to oneself’. For Sufis, this means devotion to others through complete forgetfulness of one’s own concerns.
Iranian resrarchers Abdollahi and Amini in their article published in the Iranian Journal of Sociology found that the altruistic actions performed by a group of Iranians in the city of Tehran may be related to the various levels of capital, social belief, and religious views (Abdollahi and Amini, 2007).


Some Quotations about Altruism
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness”: Martin Luther King, Jr
“I would rather be kept alive in the efficient if cold altruism of a large hospital than expire in a gush of warm sympathy in a small one”: Aneurin Bevan
“If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject”: Ayn Rand
“In brief, egoism in its modern interpretation, is the antithesis, not of altruism, but of idealism”: John Buchanan Robinson
“Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish”: Richard Dawkins
“Most men have always wanted as much as they could get; and possession has always blunted the fine edge of their altruism”: Katherine Fullerton Gerould
“Altruism is a motive to increase another’s welfare without conscious regard for one’s self-interests”: D. Myers

Altruism Poems

“What if we got outside ourselves and there

really was an outside out there, not just

our insides turned inside out? What if there

really were a you beyond me, not just

the waves off my own fire, like those waves off

the backyard grill you can see the next yard through,

though not well — just enough to know that off

to the right belongs to someone else, not you.

What if, when we said I love you, there were

a you to love as there is a yard beyond

to walk past the grill and get to? To endure

the endless walk through the self, knowing through a bond

that has no basis (for ourselves are all we know)

is altruism: not giving, but coming to know

someone is there through the wavy vision

of the self’s heat, love become a decision”: Molly Peacock

“Our memories will grow with sensitivity and insight,

Live clean and be yourself;

For, loving yourself first means the love of all mankind

Here we are today,

Love is the power supreme;

True nobility is revealed in selfless unobtrosive service,

Love one another to crown the day.
To the voiceless and the disadvantage,

Do your best to bring smiles on their faces too;

Because, there is no vision except by faith.
Altruism, altruism, altruism

There is no faith except by hope;

So is the voice of hope to the love of one another”: Edward Kofi Louis
And here is a link to the Persian poem on Eissaar (as Sacrifice) composed by Attar.

Epilogue: Let us remember that altruism and praising selflessness have been and will be always a part of Iranian beliefs and Persian Cultures.

Manouchehr Saadat Noury, PhD
Abdollahi, M.and Amini, S. (2007): Sociological Analysis of Altruism in Iran, Iranian Journal of Sociology: 8(3):28-50

Blogger Jeannette (2009): Online Article on the Reality of Altruism
Brainy Quote Website (2012): Online Quotations about Altruism
Cambridge Dictionaries Online (2012): Online Note on the Definition of Altruism
Columbia Encyclopedia (2007): Notes on Altruism
Louis, E. K. (2008):

Online Poetry on Altruism
McDonnell, D. (2009):

Online Aeticle on Studies into Human Altruism
Oxford Dictionary (2012): Online Note on the Definition of

Peacock, M. (2002): Online Poetry on Altruism
Saadat Noury, M. (2012): Various Articles on Persian Culture
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2012): Online Article on Altruism

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