It’s hard to be a good man, Michael Doran writes, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Is altruism dead? If you follow the media, it appears it nearly is. Altruistic stories go up against stories of the evil in the world, and they always lose. And If they are reported, it’s at the end of a news segment—a way to try and wash away all of the bad news.
Now, I don’t necessarily believe that altruism is dead; it’s just been sidelined as a desired characteristic in our society. It hides in the shadows, out of sight, unrecognized for how truly exceptional it is. Everyone knows someone who’s helped someone else out, but the stories only cross our consciousness for just a moment before fading into the minutiae of daily life.
My local newspaper reported a story last year about desperate children writing letters to Santa, asking for the basics: clothes, coats, school supplies. The outpouring, a symbol that altruism might still be alive and well. Naysayers were quick to say that it was just the influence of the holidays.
Altruism is defined as “the desire to be selfless.” That’s a desire to help others at ALL times, not just when it’s convenient or when the Salvation Army Santa is ringing his bell. It’s about trying to be a good person for the rest of your days on Earth, which is easier said than done.
In my late 20s, I realized I had a decision to make. Partying didn’t do it for me anymore. I wanted there to be something more to me. Now I’ve nevernever taken delight in others misfortune, but I’ve had more than one moment I’m not proud of. The best interests of others were never mine.
It was simple. I could be an asshole, or I could try to be a good man. Trust me, the former is much easier. It’s easy to be selfish, eash to put yourself first, and easy to hurt others before you are.. It is easy to always put yourself first. It is easy to hurt others before you yourself are hurt. It’s hard to actually try to be nice.
Nice guys finish last, right? Whether it’s with women or in the workplace, it seems like the assholes are always the one’s getting ahead. It’s hard to be nice when you see all this, but if you really want to, you’ll keep going.
I did, and it seems like it’s working out. I’ve got good friends, a loving wife, a nice home, and a great career.
Human development studies have shown that as people age into their golden years, one of two different things happens. Nobody is excluded. Either you begin to reap the benefits of a life well lived, and feel the desire to give back to your community (something called generativity), or you spiral into despair, caused by regret from the people you have wronged. And since you feel like it’s too late to salvage any integrity, you don’t.
But it is never too late to choose good. And why not? Why not choose the harder path? Why not choose to be a good person? Help someone, and don’t expect anything in return. Shovel your neighbor’s driveway, just because. Have a little patience with the slow driver in front of you. Play peek-a-boo with the child standing bored in line in front of you. Smile at others. (This last two might cause other problems, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
Choose altruism. It is not a one-time decision. It is a lifetime decision because, ultimately, when we all settle into our deathbeds, all we’ll have are the lives we’ve lived.