The Path to Altruism

SHECHEN, NEPAL – “Cooperation,” the Harvard University biologist Martin Nowak has written, is “the architect of creativity throughout evolution, from cells to multicellular creatures to anthills to villages to cities.” As mankind now tries to solve new, global challenges, we must also find new ways to cooperate. The basis for this cooperation must be altruism.

The desire to help others without consideration for ourselves is not just a noble ideal. Selflessness raises the quality and elevates the meaning of our lives, and that of our descendants; in fact, our very survival may even depend on it. We must have the insight to recognize this, and the audacity to say so.

Humanity faces three monumental challenges: ensuring everyone decent living conditions, improving life satisfaction, and protecting our planet. Traditional cost-benefit analysis struggles to reconcile these demands, because they span different time frames. We worry about the state of the economy from year to year; but we consider our happiness over the course of a lifetime, while our concern for the environment will mainly benefit future generations.

But an altruistic approach requires few trade-offs. A considerate investor will never speculate recklessly with his clients’ life savings, despite the potential gain for himself. A caring citizen will always think first how his actions affect his community. A selfless generation will exercise care with the planet, precisely in order to leave a livable world to its children. Altruism makes us all better off.