What is the purpose of philanthropy? To help out the poor and the marginalized, you would say. But why does one indulge in philanthropy? No doubt but to provide help to others. Is it a selfless act? Does one not benefit even if a bit from this act? And if one would admit the possibility of such a benefit, isn’t the premise of this act being a completely selfless one completely decimated?
I believe that every action that one takes, every move that one makes, has ultimately a selfish rationale behind it, deep down as it may be. The very act of philanthropy that we talk about, does one not derive a sense of self-worth after helping someone out? Deep down, does one not subconsciously want every one to know about that act? I would not, you would say. Alright, assuming one does not tell anybody about that act of philanthropy, but even a word of thanks or a blessing from the person we helped would create a sense of self-worth, a sense of happiness that one derives when one knows that he/she is doing the “right” thing. Is the very act of deriving that pleasure not enough to safely admit that the ultimate motive might have been this intangible benefit for our own selves?
Let us consider another form of feeling which is poetically defined as a completely selfless act – Love. Loving someone ought to be completely selfless. The sacrifices that one makes, especially the ones that our significant other is not aware of, can they be any more selfless, you would argue? But no. Look closer. Don’t we feel happy loving someone? Isn’t there a pleasure derived when we hand someone the reins of the carriage of our life? In fact, there can be no act more selfish than the very act of loving someone with all our heart. And that need not be a bad thing. In fact, evolution has told us that being selfish, acting on our interests is the best thing that we can do for us, as well as for the society around us. According to the powerful statement by Adam Smith, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest”. And how true it is! The world goes round because everyone acts in their own interests. I would almost go as far as to say that there can be no act which does not have a flavor of selfishness attached to it.
But I used the word “almost” as one has to admit the possibility of a completely selfless act. An act of philanthropy in which we do not let the thought of our act linger on longer than it should. An act of love which does not make us feel worthier of ourselves, or which does not make us feel “good” about ourselves. Do such acts sound sweeter? I would not like to go into that debate right now, but, admitting the possibility of such an event, how sustainable such a selfless act would be, how pleasurable it would be, or how beautiful it would seem, can again be questioned.