This I Believe

Andrew - USA
Entered on May 2, 2007

I believe that there is no such thing as a selfless act. I came to this conclusion thinking about why I do all the little things that I do throughout the day. What I mean by the fact that there is no such thing as a selfless act is that no one will consciously choose to do something if the benefit they receive from the action does not out weigh the detriment. This doesn’t mean that the benefit I receive for doing something has to be visible to others, in fact most of the time the benefit is simply in my mind. For example, if I have a million dollars and the opportunity is presented to me to donate it to charity, the decision of whether or not to donate the money will ultimately depend on whether the joy and lack of guilt that I will have if I choose to donate the money out weighs what the million dollars could have brought me had I spent the money on myself. If in the end I do choose to donate the money, it will not be because I want to help out the charity, it will ultimately be because I will personally be happier with myself in the end than I would have been had I not donated the money. Most of the time, weighing the two sides of a decision cannot be measured in tangible terms, as in the case of guilt or regret versus satisfaction and joy.

When you think about it, this internal weighing of outcomes happens with every little decision that we make throughout the day. If I drop my pen in class, the decision to pick it up or not depends on which outcome will make me the happiest. If I value being comfortable in my chair more than I value taking notes for the rest of class, I will let my pen sit on the floor. Recently, I had the choice of whether or not to hold a door open for a girl. I would not have chosen to hold the door open for a girl unless I thought the benefit of this action will out weigh the cost. Maybe I choose to hold the door because I would have a feeling of guilt if I chose not to, and the energy spent to hold the door means less to me than feeling guilty over the next five minutes. But maybe I choose not to hold the door because the guilt I feel doesn’t bother me and I would rather have the guilt than take a few seconds out of my day to hold the door. So in the end, if I choose to hold the door, which I did, I am not doing it to be nice to the girl, I am doing it so that I do not feel guilty about myself.

Most of the time when we make these decisions, we make them subconsciously. These subconscious decisions are the fundamentals of human nature. No one will choose to do something if the outcome leaves them worse off than had they chose not to do it. This is what I have come to believe by simply observing people’s everyday actions and thinking about why they do them.