Altruism

There is no righteous man on earth who does good and sins not.
Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 7:20

Fresco by Johann Michael Rottmayr The Teaching of Altruism is used to balance self-centered evaluation. Negotiation is self-centered because it involves taking personal control, while relational orientation is self-centered because it involves bias towards those closest to oneself. Altruism exists by subjecting the self to the advancement of objective good. The Teaching of Altruism balances resistance to altruism by convincing us that perfect evaluation must come from something greater than oneself or one’s family.

With respect to negotiators, the Teaching of Altruism is typically expressed by pointing out that we have limited individual ability to predict or control consequences, an ability negotiation assumes. “It is futile trying to possess the universe, and act on shaping it in the direction of one’s ambition. The instruments of the universe cannot be shaped. Act upon it and you will fail, grasp onto it and it will slip.” (Tao Te Ching 29). This idea has recently been named black swan theory and established scientifically through evidence of Heisenberg uncertainty and the butterfly effect.

Popular expressions of the negotiator-targeted Teaching of Altruism often uses death as an example: “As a cowherd with his staff drives his cows into the stable, so do Age and Death drive the life of men,” (Dhammapada 135) or “Life and death are governed by fate, wealth and honor are determined by Heaven,” (Lun Yu 12:5). Jesus of Nazarath taught with this story: “There was a rich man whose land was very productive. The man thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, because I’ve nowhere to store my produce?’ He decided, ‘This is what I’ll do—I’ll pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and I’ll be able to store all my produce and possessions. Then I’ll tell myself, ‘Self, you have enough for many years, so take it easy, eat, drink, and have fun!’’ But God told him, ‘Foolish man! Tonight your life is required to be returned—and who will get everything you’ve stored up?’” (Luke 12:16-21)

Thus, in a way beyond words, one might learn Altruism simply by attending funerals. On the other hand, the Teaching also spans the temporary nature of ownership and strength: “‘These sons belong to me, and this wealth belongs to me,’ with such thoughts a fool is tormented. He himself does not belong to himself; how much less sons and wealth?” (Dhammapada 62), “You will say to yourself, ‘My strength and the might of my hand has accumulated this wealth for me.’ But you must remember the Lord your God, for it is He that gives you strength to make wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18) and “Man was created Weak in flesh.” (Quran 4:28)

Relationally-targeted expressions of the Teaching, in contrast, point-out that reliance on one’s own virtue is a vice. In simulations in which subjects were asked to make public health decisions, Paul Slovic demonstrated that empathic evaluations produce less relief. This may be interpreted as confirming Confucius’ priority of ritual over virtue: “If you are respectful but lack ritual you will become exasperating; if you are careful but lack ritual you will become timid; if you are courageous but lack ritual you will become unruly; and if you are upright but lack ritual you will become inflexible,” (Analects 8:2) This same notion has been expressed, “Where the greatest virtue resides, only the Teachings may reveal.” (Tao Te Ching 21) and “He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination.” (Bhagavad Gita 16.23)

Rather than commend ritual, some expressions merely acknowledge the unreliability of character: “Man is given to hasty deeds.” (Quran 17:11), “Hard man’s heart is to restrain, and wavering.” (Bhagavad Gita 6.35) and “Inwardly I love God’s law, but I see a different law at work in my body, fighting against the principles I have decided on in my mind and defeating me, so I become a prisoner of the law of sin inside me. What a hopeless man I am! Who will rescue me from this dead body of mine?” (Romans 7:22-24) In practice, all of these expressions are equivalent, for if we cannot trust our own character, where can we turn but to objective authorities?

At its strongest form, the Teaching of Altruism is not specific to human weakness, but reveals the contradictory nature of personal virtue in general: “There is no such thing as perfect enlightenment to obtain. If a perfectly enlightened buddha were to say to himself, ‘I am enlightened’ he would be admitting there is an individual person, a separate self and personality, and would therefore not be a perfectly enlightened buddha.” (Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra, Ch. 9) In other words, it would be impossible to construct a perfect individual evaluator in this world, even if we started from scratch. This ties back to the negotiator-targeted version of the Teaching because it is the fact that individuation is illusory that makes personal control physically impossible as well. Altruism is justified on both sides by the simple fact that we are all in this together.

The preceding is an excerpt from Chapter 10 of GRIN Free – GRIN Together: How to let people be themselves (and why you should) by Christopher Santos-Lang.