In Praise Of Altruism

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"Altruism is a benevolent state of mind. To be altruistic is to be concerned about the fate of all those around us and to wish them well. This should be done together with the determination to act for their benefit. Valuing others is the main state of mind that leads to altruism." Mathieu Ricard, CEO of Nature Conservancy and author of Nature's Fortune.

As I walked into the First AME Church to attend funeral services for my friend Dr. Anthony Jackson or Dr. J as he was known to his friends I was thinking about altruism. He wore a ready smile that went well with the twinkle in his eye. His heart was as big as he was, all six feet four of him, with a burning passion for justice, for the desperate and the indigent. He loved jazz but his love didn't end there. Anthony was a special man in an increasingly uncaring world. He was the real deal.

Cancer took him out at the age of 68. He left a wife Ruby and two boys of his own and her two nephews. As the mourners swayed to the sweet tones of 'Round Midnight' played by the president of the National Medical Association, I could not help consider for a moment the footprint this man left behind. Diane Feinstein our State Senator sent her condolences and other distinguished guests paid tribute to this man. He spent his life in medicine but especially helping those in need. He ran a downtown skid row clinic. He had the passion.
Back in the Kennedy era we were imbued with the idea of what we could do for our country. I had the great fortune to win a Teacher Corps Fellowship and was impassioned to work with inner city kids and bring new teaching methods to upgrade the schools in South Central Los Angeles. It was eye opening for a kid from the San Fernando Valley who had rarely fell across anyone of color. I got to know the people in the neighborhood and whatever prejudice I had was soon erased by the humanity of the community. There were as many variations in the people as colors in a rainbow.

What Anthony stood for was justice, equality, opportunity, and care. We all want that. We lose our way when we believe that one group is superior to all other life forms. We can't afford to be greedy, our planet will not sustain itself if we are exclusive. There are no handles on this crisis and it's flying off the rails. We are careening off the highway at 110 miles an hour hurling ourselves over the cliffs of rational thinking. We've become self-centered, flatulent, and fraudulent. Fake news and saying whatever works to achieve selfish goals and to bend the minds of the fearful and the faithful seemingly goes unchecked. Even our news outlets are consistently hoodwinked. They think they are covering the news but it's just made up to create an effect. It has no truth. We are in crisis over the spirit of altruism and for those who need our help to live decent lives.

So what's the answer? The answer is to practice altruism. Altruism does not mean we stop caring about ourselves. It doesn't mean we step away from our own needs. It means that everyone counts, including us. If everyone matters, then what everyone does matters. It's the only thing that will save us from extinction. It means caring about climate, about poverty, about women, about children, about each other beyond just thinking but doing something that involves giving to something other than ourselves. We are all in the same boat, on a spinning planet that is heading straight for the sun. If we are to avoid burning up, literally, we need to start thinking about how to come together, to lend a hand, to create altruistic living standards. Everyone can make out, there is enough to go around. Some of us must give more than others because we have so much more.

During the 1950's taxes on the wealthy were 90 percent. It was the most prosperous time in U.S. history. It turned out that rich people didn't actually need more money. Somehow, we have come to believe as a nation, that the wealthy are superior and entitled even though they are truly not.

If we are to sustain our species, we must create a more just system. It does not mean we all become the same but simply that there is enough for everyone to live a respectful existence. It does not mean there will not be competition but simply that every living thing matters. Martin Luther King said, "Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness."

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