“He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven”
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
–William Butler Yeats
Do you consider yourself a giving person? Do you go out of your way to help strangers? Do you put the needs of those around you before your own? Altruism, the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others, is a quality of character worthy of consideration.
Altruism is the grease that makes the wheels of any body of people turn. Some might argue that self-interest is the basis for human progress, but I think anyone who has been blessed by a genuine, “no strings attached” offering from another would agree that altruism, generosity and kindness is a valuable form of enlightened self-interest.
If you give freely of yourself, investing with practical wisdom and sensibility, you will find that there are three types of people: those who will receive graciously, those who receive reluctantly and those who refuse to receive. All three types of people are valuable. The first, because they are most likely to turn around and extend the blessing beyond themselves. The second because they might learn through your generosity to receive more graciously and in turn give more freely. The third because they test your resolve to continue to give freely, without concern for reciprocity.
Life can be about so much more than the perpetuation of the species. The influence of theory of evolution established by Charles Darwin has been far-reaching, forming the framework through which many people view the world, but theories are theories. There is no doubt that natural selection is a powerful force, that those traits most favorable to the given conditions in any era tend to be carried into the next generation by those who possess them. Altruism has been a persistent theme through the ages, perhaps it is one of those traits?
Life is enhanced when you care about others. There are limits to your giving, and as I mentioned you must invest wisely lest you risk burnout. As we considered in a previous post, appearances can be deceiving, so those who invest wisely don’t judge by appearances. Some investments take years to pay off. Others offer a more immediate return.
The ability to invest wisely is developed as you care for those around you. As they say, you win some and you lose some. You learn not to pour “good money after bad.” You learn to extend trust beyond where others would when you sense a good bet. You learn to cut your losses when appropriate.
Some people are only looking for a free lunch. Unfortunately, there is typically little you can do for them. Most people, however, are looking for ways to improve, if not for themselves, then for future generations. They’re not out for a free lunch, in fact, they long for meaning, for purpose and to carry their own weight.
Enjoy the process. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing those around you grow as a result of the influence of your dreams.