December 9, 2013

The Wisdom of Altruism.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP

There are increasing signs that selfishness is winning out over altruism in this society. The trend isn't hidden. The backlash over Obamacare comes down to the fully insured resenting the call to provide for the uninsured. The disparity between the wealthy 1% and the rest of society has widened so far that wealth has created its own separate enclaves. Who would guess, walking down Fifth Avenue, that 45% of New York City’s population lives at or below the poverty line?

Selfishness is about "more for me," but it's also about being willfully blind to "them," the poor, the disadvantaged, the needy, or simply anyone with a different accent. Beneath the respectable cover of a verbal tag like "conservative" lies reactionary attitudes that won't even acknowledge that a black man could legitimately be President.

There used to be a working coalition of altruism, based on mutual deprivation, going back to the Great Depression. So many sectors of society were hurting that unlikely
partnerships, such as that between Ivy League progressives, West Virginia coal miners, and the residents of Harlem could form and remain strong. Those coalitions are much weaker now and sometimes exist only as lip service.

We are fractured and divided in new ways that history can't provide answers to. Today isn’t like yesterday, and the Great Recession did the opposite of creating altruistic alliances: people cemented the divides that have led, for example, to an unworkable Congress.

In the process, the wisdom of altruism has been lost and needs to be relearned. Why is "we" just as important as "me"? Here are a few reasons:

* We breathe the same air, and if it gets polluted, we all choke.
* We farm the same natural resources for food, and despoiled oceans affect everyone.
* Climate change doesn't spare rich countries.
* Terrorism is no respecter of national boundaries.
* Epidemic disease flies as fast and far as jet planes.
* Endless consumerism spells general catastrophe in the long run.
* The dispossessed of the world, especially in Asia, want their share of global wealth and influence.

These are the pragmatic reasons for moving toward cooperation, empathy, and altruism. "We" isn't the same as a loose collection of "me and me and me." It's holistic. More than ever before, someone else's pain has the power to make you feel pain. I don't mean to offer only negative reasons for abandoning raw selfishness and isolation. Being part of the same family is an evolutionary trend for our species. Beyond nationalism, which divides and creates wars, there is shared humanity, which creates peace and mutual interests.

The wisdom of altruism is crucial to every faith and religious tradition: "the world is my family" is a Sanskrit saying thousands of years old. But religion is only a single strand in human destiny, and the future, which looks more and more secular, needs to reinvent wisdom without dogma or the need for belief in God. The rise of naked selfishness, to be frank, probably has a lot to do with the loss of traditional values and the restraints they imposed. When the ego has nothing bigger than itself to venerate, the results can be seen in every reckless disregard for common humanity.

One hopes that a critical mass is forming around a larger vision. If nothing else, the wretched excess of mega-wealth offers a sickening display of egoism driven by getting and spending. Will we remember that there is another side to human nature, where love, compassion, empathy, and giving promote real happiness and a sense of fulfillment? I think we will. The need is great, and we are designed to evolve, two things that everyone must respond to, however long it takes.

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 75 books with twenty-one New York Times bestsellers. What Are You Hungry For? (Harmony, November 12, 2013). Join the to eradicate obesity and malnutrition.

Write Your Comment

  1. ek

    Not sure how paying higher prices for lesser care is altruistic.

  2. healthy heart

    1. conservatives are quite capable of electing any color, race, ethnicity of candidate as many conservatives are any color, race, ethnicity of constituents. 2. i deny the premise that "The backlash over Obamacare comes down to the fully insured resenting the call to provide for the uninsured" as i know full well that there are plenty of uninsured that wish to remain uninsured." - it is a question of force, compulsion, and scope/authority to even be discussing the issue much less deciding on it., and 3. i also deny the premise that "Endless consumerism spells general catastrophe in the long run" as even if you take the view that it is encouraging greater consumption, that is not a bad thing if what is consumed truly improves people`s lives and solves their problems. the free market is smart and can be trusted to know when to regurgitate or change their "eating" habits. consumerism that is defined as a blast towards marketers in general views the process as encouragement to make more purchases only for the returns on investment for greedy wealthy elitists when in reality it should be viewed as more and more peoples problems are being solved, new solutions are being funded and society is better for it. the only reason i can sit in air conditioning and type this response into a wi-fi laptop is because at some point, the principle of consumerism encouraged enough spending on the first pc desktops to support new product R&D

  3. marko...marko...

    As society becomes more technology based and further away from a belief in a higher power other than self, of course you are not going to find altruism. Altruism is concerned with our individual (possibly selfish) morals, including our belief in how we treat others. (like your dig on conservatives...nice) The loss of traditional values may be found more in our values than in selfishness. Do you think there is a fine-line between selfishness and wanting the best for "me" and "my" family? Also, are coalitions selfish then and should be strong? It is contradictory for you to say that altruism is crucial to faith, but we need to let go of it. We must embrace the side of our nature where love resides, true. However, we need to establish foundations of individual values and morality. This is where the keys are found.

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