Some time ago we posted Made in the Shade, which discussed living an altruistic existence. An example we cited are those who would plant a tree knowing they would likely not be around long enough to enjoy sitting in its shade. These are the people who understand today is merely a jumping off point for all that follows, not the goal. A bold concept for a couple of people whose posts more likely read as “no one is guaranteed a tomorrow.” That no one person is guaranteed tomorrow does not mean there will not be a tomorrow for others, and for those we have an obligation to leave a world where they can enjoy all their todays. In fact, in that post that we wrote. “Even if we might not be here to enjoy a future, it is our responsibility to prepare for it, to prepare others for it, and to as much as we can, prepare it for others. That is when we become truly great – when we are willing to plan, prepare, act, and do that which will not benefit us.”
It struck us that just as there are those who have adopted the more altruistic philosophy of life, there are those who act as if their today is the most important day on the world’s calendar. These are the opposites of the altruists, the egoists or obsessively selfish. They would throw away a lifetime of contentment for an hour of bliss and assume they are so good that they still will be rewarded with the contented lifetime along with the opportunity for many other ecstatic moments. Then we wondered, can these people be reoriented toward altruism.
It may not be as far-fetched as first considered to redirect an egocentric individual to a more humane approach to life. Yes, they appear to be polar opposites, the altruist willing to give up something now for a benefit extending beyond their lifetime (for example, one willing to do the work to plant a tree today knowing you’ll never sit in its shade) versus the egoist willing to give up their future for a moment of happiness today (for example, the unfaithful spouse who is gambling the loss of a lifetime partner in exchange for an hour of physical bliss with another). It just might be possible to swap the selfish “either or” approach with a more considerate “if then” attitude. For example, “I can keep my passion level to my committed partner so high that I will not want to look elsewhere for excitement or validation.”
The people who would trade their futures, and presumably others’ happiness, to indulge themselves would seem to be very low on the “nice to be around” scale. But they likely have many good qualities. They may enjoy professional success and the company of friends. Maybe it is only after discovering there could have been something more permanent, more committed, more faithful, that the question of "what brought me here?" is raised that their selfish side is exposed. Can then the altruist re-direct this egoist? In all but the very, very few there still is good and when the good can be found it can be made to be dominant.
It could be the most altruistic undertaking an altruist can undertake. It is a part of the very nature of altruism to look for the good and once found, to nurture and encourage it. It may take some “ego massaging” that might not be initially responsive but is that very much different from planting a tree knowing you will not sit in its shade? With targeted reorientation, words of wisdom, examples of alternates to the selfish choices, the caring person within the egocentric individual may learn the benefits of peace and contentment that from their more giving actions and regain the loyalty of the wandering spouse, unappreciative child, or oblivious partner.
It is a wise and loving person who can plant a tree knowing someday someone will appreciate the forethought and work of the person who planted it. It is a loving and wise person who can lead someone out of the dark shadows and into the shade of a tree grown from the seed of a thought that we can all be caring and giving people. There is not much difference between dark shadows and comforting shade other than the warmth of the sun when you choose to make the move.