Altruism is not group-think and shouldn’t be confused as such. Altruism is considered what is better for others based upon societal norms, not on the populist vote. And selfishness isn’t the absolute reason why others fail to consider the altruistic option when faced with a choice. Many other factors can fall into play, but an important one to consider in our leadership context is that of the overwhelming desire to fit in, to be part of the “gang”. Because if being part of a bigger whole is important for very primordial reasons, sometimes that urge to be part of the group supersedes what is really right as part of society.
A person’s maturity levels obviously factor in; their ability to stave off impulsiveness to do what is right for others as a whole compared to what seems to be right for themselves or for the group we happen to be in at the time. Helping a fellow member of a criminal gang escape detection at risk of your own incarceration, for example, might seem to be altruistic. In the sense that self-sacrifice for the group might meet that definition, what about the rest of society? Really, what is and isn’t altruistic, then, is entirely based upon what the individual considers to be right. We have to really look at what is right by being fellow human beings, or int he context of your faith, or whatever values you happen to have. Eating other humans, I think we all agree, is wrong. But there are those who, in certain contexts, might legitimately argue otherwise. I'm not trying to tell you here what is wrong or right. The purpose of this series is to get you to THINk about what is wrong or right and PERSONALLY lead and set the example in the regard of what is right.
Take for example in World War II Germany, German citizens helping oppressed Jews escape, which at the time, would have been considered contrary to German law. While we would all consider ignoring those laws and assisting escape to be demonstrating altruistic behavior, given the atrocities being conducted and the values of our society, there are things we also must consider in the scope of right and wrong. While I certainly don't defend it, perhaps those who were “law abiding” members of German society might have considered those life-saving actions to be against the values of that society. Given the importance in Germanic culture of conformity to society and lawfulness, I can see, while I don't agree, that their perspective has some context worth discussing. It is all very much contextual as to what is and isn’t valuable and sacrificial when it comes to the actions we consider altruistic. What is for the good of man versus what is for the good of society, on a daily basis, causes us to disagree as to what actions are for the good.
So this conflict we endure is very real, very tangible, and while we personally may feel that the actions one takes are not necessarily “good”, one might reason otherwise in the context of for whom the good is being served. Bad decisions sometimes don’t come about because someone is a sociopath, but because their judgment as to what is right is temporarily clouded for any number of reasons.
Take another recent example: the crying kid at the Yankees game and the “terrible” couple who wouldn’t give him the ball that had been tossed into their seat. This story went rabidly viral. People were shaming the couple. Supposedly less than altruistic behavior, most of us thought, the selfishness, the greed. What we didn’t know was this: the couple was to be married this weekend and they were celebrating at the game together. According to the child’s PARENTS, who have gone on national news, the couple, in fact, offered to give the child the ball. But the PARENTS, sensing a life lesson on not getting what you want through screaming and throwing a tantrum, opted NOT to take the ball.
We don’t always have the facts before we rush to judgment of another. It takes a lot of discipline; discipline that I personally don’t always have, to take a step back, gather the information, and then make a determination of action or inaction. We have a spot detection of what is right and what is wrong. So not every act that defies what we consider to be altruistic is. It isn’t our place to say it is either. But we can focus on ourselves and make better decisions in that manner. And we can educate others in how to be better themselves.