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.”