Thoughts on Altruism by Sebastian Marmolejo

What is Altruism

Altruism, by definition, is either a belief or practice of selfless concern for the well-being of others. In other words, it refers to taking action into helping others to live a better life. Whether these actions are commonly taken with “pure” intentions or expecting some sort of retribution is highly controversial, so we’ll leave the topic of intent for later.

According to Google Dictionary, altruism comes from Latin alteri huic ‘to this other’ later evolving into Italian altrui ‘somebody else’, and finally flourishing in French altruisme, by the mid-19th century.

This term carries a strong historical context, it is interesting to look at how the uneventful nature of the 20th century in western Europe vanished this term from common literature, the continuous war and conflict left no room to care for others.

We fortunately now live in times of peace, which welcome and embrace altruism all across the different layers of society, and in one way or another, we all have a certain care for others and their well-being, we support them by donating to foundations, volunteering, voting for politicians seeking for common good, and even just by paying our taxes.

Why is Altruism Important

History has proved that only societies seeking for common good are bound to thrive, and to live in peace and abundance on the long run. Selfishness, the literal antonym of altruism, has led entire civilizations into their own demise, it has brought empires to self-destruction, and in more modern times, has created an abysmal gap of welfare between the different classes of society.

In business, corporate social responsibility has blossomed across the world, creating a loop of consumers who are more aware of the societal problems that businesses have a stake on, and these businesses, in return, are creating innovative ways to supply the demand for ethical practices. Great examples are not only Green Peace or WWF, but the biggest multinationals all now have objectives aligned with the United Nations goals for a better planet.

Perhaps one of the most important roles of our governments nowadays is to ensure a fair distribution of the wealth amongst its citizens, without of course weakening the prosperous forces of the free market. Where is the line do be drawn? How much of these resources should be allocated to altruistic purposes? To what extent will these handouts stagnate the economy? These are questions that puzzle the specialists and are often found to be very controversial.

While these questions are found an answer, us as consumers, professionals, entrepreneurs, parents, students can take small yet meaningful steps in the right direction, contributing to much healthier, equal and prosperous societies.

Whether we are helping and old lady to cross the street, or funding a non-profit organization, we give altruism presence and momentum, we are programming the language of our culture, we are unconsciously paving the road for our future generations, and it is these small decisions that we can head this road in the right direction.


Jette Immerzeel