What Does it Mean to Be Altruistic?

Most people, in some small way, do nice things for those around them on a regular basis. Whether it’s holding open the door for a stranger, exchanging pleasantries in an elevator, or buying someone a cup of coffee, we like to go a little out of our way to benefit the lives of others. However, it is much harder to maintain that level of kindness for a sustained period, even more so when you add in the element of selflessness. As difficult as this may sound, it is a reality for the people who have chosen to devote their existences to altruism and truly causing the most good that they can during their lives.

Altruism, by dictionary definition, is a belief set that promotes engagement in selfless practices that seek to improve the welfare of others; the opposite would be egoism. Altruism can perhaps be best understood by looking at some altruistic behaviors of the animal kingdom — take for example bird species that have a danger warning cry. In the event of danger, the birds closest to the predator will sound the alarm warning others while also giving up their positions, putting themselves in danger. Altruism is pure selflessness, where the altruistic person places the wellbeing of others above all else, even at the expense of personal safety.

In society, altruism and philanthropy are often spoken of interchangeably, but actually vary greatly. Consider philanthropy as a passion, something you do because you feel strongly about the lives of others and want to make a difference. On the other hand, altruism is more of a way of life, where the desire to be selfless and help others dictates your life and guides your path.  

The drive to be selfless influences what career altruists have, their home location, their lifestyles, and their salary, as their focus is outward rather than inward. Altruists are often driven towards high-impact, high salary careers, though unlike others they do not do it for the personal payout. The more they earn means the more they can donate or put toward causes they want to benefit; the more power and clout they accrue, the more leverage they have to make a difference.

Altruism is more than simply caring for others. It is more than helping out when you can and trying to remember to incorporate volunteering into your life once a year. Altruism is dedicating your life to being selfless and being constantly on the lookout for lives you can better and change you can effect.

How to Get Your Business Involved in Giving

As a business, you exist in a symbiotic relationship with the community that surrounds you. The community supported you and assisted you as you were in the process of growing, and eventually it’s your turn to return the favor. There are countless ways for your company to get involved; it’s up to you to decide how to best give back in a way that will make your employees feel more connected to the business and the community as a whole. Here are just a few ways to get your team involved.

  • Employee volunteer days.
    • Plan large events and gatherings that will bring your employees together in pursuit of a common goal. Take a day once a quarter to go clean up up an overgrown cemetery in the community, rake leaves in the park, volunteer at a nursing home, or find another way you can best help your community.
  • Clean up the roads.
    • Although the littering rate has dropped 61% over the past 40 years here in the United States, we’re still producing more than a quarter million tons trash each year. While it’s unlikely you and your staff alone have the time and resources to clean the entire ocean or reduce your city’s carbon footprint, you can make a difference at home by helping to clean up the litter and trash in your community. As a business, you could Adopt a Highway and take a day or two each year to walk alongside the road and clean up the trash gets tossed from car windows. You could also potentially save a fellow commuter a lot of financial burden and stress; just take a look at the damage bottles, cans, and plastic bags can cause.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen.
    • Food is one of the most basic human needs, but for some people constant access to it is a luxury that they do not have. That’s why community food banks exist; to make sure people who are struggling to make ends meet are able to put food on the table for their families. Have a day each week when employees go volunteer a few at a time on rotation. Organize food drives to collect more resources for the banks. Find ways that you can relieve the burdens the organization feels.
  • Sponsor a charity.
    • Do your employees have incentives for reaching their goals each month? Each quarter? Do you set aside money for company happy hours or bonding exercises? Why not set aside one quarter’s earnings to sponsor a charity? Have the employees decide collectively which charity to give to and set a goal to reach; benefiting a cause they’ve chosen to help will be their incentive to work hard and meet goals over the next three months.