Altruism is in Our Nature

“Taking pleasure in, and deriving strength from, altruism seems to be deeply embedded in our nature. Even children as young as eighteen months old show empathy for other children and adults in whom they see signs of distress. They will give a blanket to an adult who is cold or a toy to a child who is sad. Our capacity to feel and be moved by the pain of others is an undeniable fact of our nature. In short, as soon as we exercise our moral sense, in terms of helping others in particular, we gain enormous benefits, not just psychological but physical. It is as if we realign ourselves with deeply engraved instincts that have somehow become underused in a world of self-esteem, self-satisfaction and self-preoccupation. The benefits are real, measurable and lasting. We have material needs and they are important. But we also have psychological, spiritual and moral needs, and they too are important. Once our basic needs for sustenance and security have been met, we are more enriched by what we give than by what we receive. There is something deep within us that yearns for connection with others, and that has been denied expression by much that has happened over the past half-century, and with particular acceleration in the past decade. In the liberal democracies of the West, there has been too much ‘I’, and too little ‘We’. There has been too much individualism and too little of the moral bonds that lie at the heart of friendship, family and community. Friendship, family and community exist in virtue of moral bonds. That is why they make us larger than we would be if we focused on self-interest alone.”

Morality, Chapter 23, p. 324