Giving is Selfish (And I recommend it)

In the wake of the ALS challenge, there has been much discussion on the effectiveness of such a campaign. Some call it Slacktivism, others are just annoyed that the videos are filling their Facebook Newsfeeds, displacing important cat memes (*raises hand sheepishly*), others even argue that it's just self-promotion.

And honestly, I myself have had reservations about the challenge. First -- the whole water thing was originally meant as a punishment for not giving but somehow it turned into what everyone did in addition to giving (which kind of makes giving miserable, which kind of seems like the wrong message to send if you are trying to make people want to give to charities...)  But seriously, I get the idea. But at this point I think it's gone on so long that we've passed the point of Raising Awareness and are solidly moving into the "If I see one more video I will vow NOT to give to charity until they stop" territory.

But you can't say that it hasn't raised money and awareness. I didn't know what ALS stood for before this! (and since my friend accidentally said she was donating to "ASL," maybe even the American Sign Language organization is getting money out of this deal too!)

Have the videos made me pick this up as a new pet cause? No. But maybe for some people, it did.

(and as a bonus, the world was also given the gift of these gems. *giggle*)

And there's a behavioral science lesson that teaches that the act of making some gesture -- like signing a petition - actually changes our self-perception and we begin to see ourselves as someone who does things. Which in turn, makes you take a bigger action the next time. That's why people still use petitions. The piece of paper itself likely does absolutely nothing, but they've pulled a Jedi mind trick on you so that when they come back in a month or so and ask you to join a protest or donate money, you are more likely to do so. Because you signed a paper. That makes you someone who joins causes. Someone who takes action. So if you ignore a cause now, you're going against who you are as a person.

Sneaky, right?

But brilliant. So who knows, maybe many of the people who made these videos now subconsciously see themselves as someone who does things, which may spur them on to other charitable acts in the future.

But isn't it also inherently self-promotional to post a video of yourself giving to charity?

And self-promotion aside, you also get to feel good after you support a cause - which makes giving kind of selfish, right?
There’s a Friends episode where Phoebe tries to prove to Joey that there are purely selfless acts in the world, but she fails. She goes as far as donating money to PBS, which she hates (because the Sesame Street characters never wrote her a letter, so completely understandable) and feels like she has finally done something completely unselfish because she got nothing in return -- until she realizes how happy giving made her. 
So yeah, it would seem we always get something in return. You get to  feel good (and with the ALS challenge, you also get recognition, whether you wanted it or not.)

Should those inherently selfish incentives keep you from supporting charities?

Of course not.

By posting things about your support, you may really raise awareness and spur someone else to get involved. And yes, you will always get something out of giving: I think that’s God’s incentive for us to treat each other well – we get to feel happy afterwards.

So I guess my point is: don't shy away from raising awareness for causes just because you accidentally get recognition in the process. And don't feel like charity has to be miserable! You will always get something in return, that's just part of the deal.

Recently, I was told by one of my employers to record my hours of volunteer service for the year. I started thinking of what that would include and I remembered that I volunteered to run from D.C. to Boston to raise money and awareness for the Boston Marathon bombing victims.

And my first thought was: I can't count that. That was fun! Then I realized - well I did donate time gathering sponsors and coordinating an awareness event in D.C., then I ran the thing, which entailed giving up more time, sleep, and - at times - sanity (although that's hardly quantifiable, because who really knows how much sanity I had to begin with...) and I gave physical energy...huh. I suppose that probably does count as philanthropy!

But you know what -- I wanted to do it. I paid to do it. I gave up Starbucks to do it! Because the cause was important to me -but it was also fun! It was an adventure that I'll tell my grandkids about. I looked forward to that "service" as much as I look forward to vacations. It was very much selfish while simultaneously being very much philanthropic.

I feel this way whenever I volunteer at the Walter Reed military hospital too. I always leave more hopeful.  You would think it’d be the opposite, but watching people triumph over circumstances reminds me that so much more is possible in life. I selfishly look forward to going there. I walk away with more than I walked in with - every time.

It's the same when you do small things, like stopping to help someone who dropped something, or paying for the Starbucks order of the person behind you. You end up feeling really good, and heck, sometimes you do even get recognition for it and people look at you as someone who does things.

Do it anyway.

I'm certainly not saying you should do things out of pride, and I'm not even saying you should give just to feel good, but I am saying you will feel good and on some level our subconscious learns that and we want to do more good and we feel even more happy and it starts a really great cycle of meeting someone else’s needs while also meeting our own accidentally in the process.

So maybe publicly dumping water on yourself for ALS isn't your thing (or maybe you don't know how buckets work):


but I recommend that you consider finding some cause or random act of kindness that is your thing.

You know, selfishly.