Selfish Selflessness

Several teenagers cleaned the filthy Potomac River last November with one thought in mind: themselves.

They weren’t worried about the water pollution problem, but with finishing required high school community service hours.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the teen volunteering rate doubles the adult volunteering rate. Teens volunteer more because they put themselves first, not the community. The truth is—so does everyone else.

Think about it. Why do people adopt pets? Donate to charities? Give gifts? Do anything?

Short answer: to benefit themselves.

Animal Freedom finds that people adopt pets because they make socializing easier and substitute relationships with partners, children, or family members. We don’t adopt pets to improve its life but improve our own.

You may think donating to charities is a selfless act—it’s not. It’s the most selfish. People give to charity for tax incentives, so even those who donate, receive the most benefits.

When we give someone a present, we’re also selfish. NY Times writer Barbara Ehrenreich explains how giving a present makes us selfish because we do it to receive gratitude.

Some believe the motive behind good acts doesn’t matter as long as we benefit the community. However, by being less selfish, we can benefit the greater good on a far greater scale.

Right now we’re caterpillars: creatures obsessed with evolving themselves. We could be butterflies: dedicating their lives to pollinating flowers.

If we have good intentions we can achieve far greater as a community.

A mindset like this helps pets find homes for a lifetime, several toddlers to live without hunger for another week, a whole orphanage to receive a present for another Christmas, and rivers to stay clean for another day.