Monday, June 7, 2010

No such thing as altruism

I've argued before to people that I don't believe true altruism exists.

Here's my latest case in point: I've started volunteering. Now, volunteering is a very giving sort of thing to do, innit? The giving of time and energy in exchange for no monetary gain? Yet I myself know that my reasons are anything but pure, and I'm fine with that. I know I'm no Mother Theresa.

Reason 1: I have no library experience on my resume but would like to transfer into that line of work. I have no way of going up against people who have either the relevant degree or experience--so I need to get that experience in some way. You can't gain paid experience in a job that demands experience to get into it, so I had to find another way. Enter volunteering. Two afternoons a week, for a few hours, I shelve books or do other tasks that may need doing.

Reason 2: I like doing it. I love putting books and materials to rights, to seeing the rows of neatly lined up items tidied by my own hand. I like feeling productive and efficient, seeing the cart of unshelved materials dwindle down until it's empty, knowing I did that. I only work part-time and am searching for full-time; in the meantime, not too many productive activities occupy my time, so having something constructive that gets me out of the house and away from the computer is a bonus.

So there ya have it. I'm a selfish volunteer.


michele said...

I would say all volunteers are selfish. That doesn't mean what they're doing doesn't benefit others though (i.e. is a kind of altruism).

When I worked in volunteer management, I quickly came to realize that volunteers were motivated by three primary things: a social need to meet people and make friends, obtain a new skill, or have authority/power/control over something.

The last one sounds like it would be antithetical to volunteering, but it really isn't. Those are the volunteers that love organizing events, other people, or yes, even books on a shelf. The trick in finding volunteers for any task is to match the right motivation to the task. Your position obviously fills at least one or more of those desires. So you get what you want, and they get the work they need. That's win-win.

So if you're a selfish volunteer, then all volunteers are selfish. But that's not all bad.

William the Coroner said...

I think you are being a bit cynical, in re altruism. Remember the four chaplains on the Dorchester in WWII. People at times do the right thing, even at a cost to themselves.

And yes, volunteering is a voluntary act, and you don't do something you don't want to do. So what?