On Altruism


Here’s a difficult word to swallow for today: altruism. I must admit this letter took a long time to make. I thought endlessly of what to say to you and what you will most accept in the long run. You see, the act of giving is always a personal one. So I discuss this with the ever-present mindset that someday you will either distort whatever values I teach you, alter it or discard it altogether.

We have different ways of looking at altruism and neither one is right or wrong. Here, in this very word alone, your father and I have had countless arguments of how to treat it because this is what we will ultimately teach you. Your Papa thinks that as long as people work hard for what they want to get, then a lavish lifestyle is justifiable. He did earn it, after all. He’s right. I, on the other hand, think that if you have the basic needs. If you’re comfortable enough to have the means for survival and a bit more for your sundries, then it would be selfish not to give what you don’t need away to those who do. In a way, I may be right too. When I was involved in an NGO, your father didn’t understand how I could give everything, most of my earnings anyway, to give to less-privileged kids’ education when I also had needs of my own. So, what do you prioritize? Yourself? Others? Those who need it more? Or you, who might need it in the future? Like most things in life perhaps, striking a balance to the two is what you should strive for. We will have different ways of looking at giving and giving back eventually.

Here’s what I think about it though. When I say the source of giving comes from a personal one, what I really mean to say is it comes from a selfish motive. It’s selfish because you’re fulfilling that aspect of yourself that wishes to be part of something bigger than the pits and falls of your own world. You do it because you’re seeking an identity that’s found only in the act of giving a part of who you are to others. You do it because it makes you feel good. You do it because you think it’s the right thing to do. That is a selfish motive. And I think that you can never escape it being so, and you shouldn’t even try. You may be fooling yourself to think that you wish JUST to help although helping is inevitably what the act will entail. In giving, that is the fixed point, that no matter what your intention is, whether it be fame, power or finding yourself through others, the act will eventually boil down to helping. So, don’t strive to be the selfless maven who keeps nothing for herself. Strive to be the self-aware person who knows that giving is a wonderful source of happiness.

And know that you don’t have to limit giving in the material aspect too, giving your time, your ideas, your effort, your labor or your empathy is as much an asset in this world than what money can give to others. But in order for this to not look like it’s a term paper, let’s just keep the discussion to material things, shall we? Here are a few things I learned along the way, I suppose, coming from a religious family who was always in the ins and outs of the church and Catholic school:

Never give anything you might not want to receive.
It doesn’t matter whether they’re toys, clothes, books or supplies. Always check each one and ask yourself whether as recipient, this will make you happy if you receive this from someone. It all boils down to respect, little girl.Those people you are giving to do not deserve your wastes.

Allocate a part of your allowance or a box in order to make a routine out of giving.
This I learned quite late. I always had to rummage around my closet and scour for materials downtown when someone asked for ‘donations’ (An ugly condescending word but you will probably hear it a lot.). The key is to actually just get a box and drop things there you think might be helpful to others the same as way an expat or OFW might do with his balikbayan box. Better yet, when you have the chance to shop Downtown or somewhere like Chinatown, get essential things like school supplies and such. Someone will always be needing them especially in a country like ours where the Education budget is equal to none at all.

You don’t have to be in a group just to help.
It’s great if you do especially if the group has the same ideals as you. Members can propel each other and can strive for a common goal. But you also have to remember that each group has a culture of its own. Even NGOs, Charity Groups, Catholic School organizations aren’t immune to peer pressure, and this tool can either be positive or negative. Just make sure the group strives to turn you into a positive version of you.

There is such a thing as giving too much.
When you feel like there is nothing left of you, who you were, who you are, left to give, then stop. Regenerate. Find family and friends who will serve as your lifelines. Somewhere in time, when you’re ready, you’ll share yourself again.



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