Moshe-Mordechai van Zuiden
Psychology, Medicine, Science, Politics, Oppression, Integrity, Philosophy, Jews

Pure altruism, does it exist?

There are those who give to receive, plain and simple. They are not generous at all. This is how they make friends or a career. Gifts with strings attached. Not uncommon.

No one can just give and never receive. (Life is give and receive, not give and take, Heaven forbid.) Which does not mean that our giving should depend on receiving. Though most people would respond to receiving by giving. (Except to parental people because as babies we were so used to receiving one-way.) It is important to ask for our needs but also be concerned about needs of others. So some people would give because with their empathy the understand others’ needs or hear their requests.

And there are those who give to make a good impression. On the recipient, on bystanders, and/or on the¬† Creat^r, even. Or in the hope to get something in return, a thank you, a smile, a compliment or Heavenly reward.¬†(I asked one person widely known as a living saint: “Would you do anything different if G^d told you, there will not be any Heavenly reward?” He replied: “If not for the reward, for what do we make the effort?”!) We can spot this hope for gratefulness in us when we give without the recipient knowing it was us who gave. How much would we wish that s/he’d know! It’s hard for many people to be a hidden saint.

Or giving because that is the rule, the law or the obligation. It could be from obedience or from fear, afraid of the consequences if one doesn’t.

And then there are saintly people who give because it gives them a good warm feeling. Sometimes because it erases a guilt feeling. But there can also be the motive to feel good about oneself. Or even to get rid of a request to give: Here, take it! (Which may include giving someone something that is not good for them, like alcohol to an alcoholic. This is not generosity but careless thoughtless stupidity.) Or after having taken too much from others, to still guilt feelings or claims, return a little of it to the world. (A philanthropy of sorts.) To give to receive a good feeling.

And then there are also people who give because that’s what needs to happen. They want a better world and that’s one way to create one. “I want to live in a world in which there is generosity and I will contribute some.” Or giving to teach by example to others to be generous. But, you could say that they still give to themselves: a better world.

And there are many people who give because that’s what they learned, were trained to do in life. They feel driven by responsibility. Giving as a habit, often barely a choice anymore. “Her life was giving.” Some of them desperately would like to receive themselves (listening in the hope to be listened to) but instead, at least, they make do with vicariously enjoying the (hopefully expressed) gratefulness of their beneficiaries.

And then there is giving from feeling generous. Overwhelmed by sympathy or empathy, one “must” give. Or simply, one likes to give. It’s one’s nature. That feels right and good!

There’s also giving to be true to one’s community’s, people’s, state’s, religion’s, upbringing’s or inborn morality or one’s feeling or thought or philosophy of life that one “should.” How much and how one is “expected” to give may also be prescribed or alternatively be dictated by how obligated or compelled one feels. NB: Charity starts at home.

And lastly, there are people who are not possessive or they don’t feel that they are deserving of anything, so they give away all they ever get.

So the question is, is it possible to give from oneself as a conscious decision without wanting anything in return, to do good to others or the world in general? But then, why would one give? What would be one’s motive to give if one would give 100% altruistically? Or is there always (perhaps a hidden) selfish motive under any veneer of saintliness?

Well, pure altruism exists and this is how it works. Giving because it’s a proper expression of who one is. It fits me.

Of course, it is good to (have) be(en) a little bit altruistic. But why not go all the way? Why hide or limit expressing who we truly are?

Just giving because it fits me, does not disavow the Obligation a Jew has to believe in Divine Reward. Rather, the giving is not related to incentives or remunerations. But the Obligation to give did fall away because doing a Commandment cancels that Commandment for now (assuk bemitzvot, patur memitzvot). (Jews who give because they just feel like doing so, are not exempt from the Commandments to give. They should still learn to give because we are Divinely commanded.)

We should be thankful to cynical people who questioned altruism. They showed that most forms of “generosity” are not “it.”

About the Author
MM is a prolific and creative writer and thinker, a daily blog contributor to the TOI. He is a fetal survivor of the pharmaceutical industry (, born in 1953 to two Dutch survivors who met in the largest concentration camp in the Netherlands, Westerbork, and holds a BA in medicine (University of Amsterdam). He taught Re-evaluation Co-counseling, became a social activist, became religious, made Aliyah, and raised three wonderful kids. He wrote an unpublished tome about Jewish Free Will. He's a strict vegan since 2008. He's an Orthodox Jew but not a rabbi. * His most influential teachers (chronologically) are: his parents, Nico (natan) van Zuiden and Betty (beisye) Nieweg, Wim Kan, Mozart, Harvey Jackins, Marshal Rosenberg, Reb Shlomo Carlebach and lehavdiel bein chayim lechayim: Rabbi Dr. Natan Lopes Cardozo, Rav Zev Leff and Rav Meir Lubin. * Previously, for decades, he was known to the Jerusalem Post readers as a frequent letter writer. For a couple of years he wrote hasbara for the Dutch public. His fields of attention now are varied: Psychology (including Sexuality and Abuse), Medicine (including physical immortality), Science (statistics), Politics (Israel, the US and the Netherlands, Activism - more than leftwing or rightwing, he hopes to highlight Truth), Oppression and Liberation (intersectionally, for young people, the elderly, non-Whites, women, workers, Jews, GLBTQAI, foreigners and anyone else who's dehumanized or exploited), Integrity, Philosophy, Jews (Judaism, Zionism, Holocaust and Jewish Liberation), Ecology and Veganism. Sometimes he's misunderstood because he has such a wide vision that never fits any specialist's box. But that's exactly what many love about him. Many of his posts relate to affairs from the news or the Torah Portion of the Week or are new insights that suddenly befell him. * He hopes that his words will inspire and inform, reassure the doubters but make the self-assured doubt more. He strives to bring a fresh perspective rather than bore you with the obvious. He doesn't expect his readers to agree. Rather, original minds must be disputed. In short, his main political positions are: anti-Trumpism, for Zionism, Intersectionality, non-violence, democracy, anti the fake peace process, for original-Orthodoxy, Science, Free Will, anti blaming-the-victim and for down-to-earth optimism. Read his blog how he attempts to bridge any discrepancies. He admits sometimes exaggerating to make a point, which could have him come across as nasty, while in actuality, he's quit a lovely person to interact with. He holds - how Dutch - that a strong opinion doesn't imply intolerance of other views. * His writing has been made possible by an allowance for second generation Holocaust survivors from the Netherlands. It has been his dream since he was 38 to try to make a difference by teaching through writing. He had three times 9-out-of-10 for Dutch at his high school finals but is spending his days communicating in English and Hebrew - how ironic. G-d must have a fine sense of humor. In case you wonder - yes, he is a bit dyslectic. November 13, 2018, he published his 500st blog post with the ToI. If you're a native English speaker and wonder why you should read from people whose English is only their second language, consider the advantage of having a peek outside of your cultural bubble. * NEW: To see other blog posts by him, his overspill blog you can reach by clicking on the Website icon next to his picture at the head of every post. There you may find precursors to later TOI blog posts, addition or corrections of published TOI blog posts, blog posts the TOI will not carry and some thoughts that are too short to be a TOI blog post. Also, the TOI only allows for one blog post per blogger per 24 hours. Sometimes, he has more to say than that. * To send any personal reaction to him, scroll to the top of the blog post and click Contact Me.
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