Why Doing Good Matters

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This article was written by Jungmin Kim (Jamie). To join the conversation and see other questions, check out our Aristotle’s Café Facebook Page.

Last week’s Aristotle’s café kicked off with the question of how the non-profit sector (or as some may call it charity organizations) can become more effective in serving its purpose.

The question quickly spiraled into a heavy deliberation on how we can relieve the biggest pains that the world is undergoing – poverty, inequality, war, just to name a few.
 
Our thoughts branched in many directions. We realized that many of us were speaking from our own experiences of getting involved in the small and large movements that address these pains. Whether we have worked for a large non-profit organization addressing global issues or volunteered ourselves on a weekend for the marginalized groups in our community, we all seemed to converge on the desire for doing something good. The very fact that we were discussing the given issue was also revealing that – we cared about it.

What it means for us as Individuals

As complex as we humans are, it is hard to pin down a single motive for why we do what we do, let alone why we do or like to do something good for others. The theoretical debate of egoism vs. altruism endeavors for an explanation, but doesn’t give us a practical answer to the following question:

  • What may the act of doing good mean for our modern lives?
  • That is, what kind of value does it bring to us individuals?

We may know someone who is living a busy life with her/his job and family during the week but would never miss one chance to volunteer on the weekends. Or we may have seen someone moving out of a corporate life to pursue something more meaningful.

The common attainment underlying these pursuits is the sense of fulfillment.

In the above cases, the fulfillment attained from the benevolent activities seem to be adding a sense of purpose to one’s life, which may be falling short in the interactions that one engages in within the typical work, love and family relationships.

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"It is quite true that [we live] by bread alone—when there is no bread. But what happens to [our] desires when there is plenty of bread and when [our bellies are] chronically filled?"

― Abraham Maslow

Giving Back to The Society Where We Became Ourselves

Most of us live with daily jobs that do not directly involve addressing the troubles of our community and our world. And we often find ourselves preoccupied enough in addressing our own issues and what we aim to achieve in our lives.

We may be prioritizing growing wealth through doing our jobs well, nurturing our family and relationships, developing ourselves by learning new things. But in essence, all of our pursuits and who we want to become are endowed with a meaning only in relation to others.

As Aristotle has bluntly put it, “Man is by nature a social animal” and we can only define ourselves and exist within a society.

 

Suppose that factors such as wealth, education, or rank in career are viewed as indicators of success in a certain community. Individuals in that society would be compared to others by looking at elements such as money, education, and social status.
Some Individuals may work towards the goal of inner development or to become more charitable. The identity of self, then is again developed in comparison to others in the community and the values that they hold.

Maslow’s Thoughts on Self-Fulfillment

In fact, Maslow’s known theory of psychological health has detailed the process through which we pursue the needs for self-fulfillment.

In his pyramid model of needs, self-actualization is placed at the top as the higher level of need that humans pursue after the lower level of needs – physiological needs, safety needs, social belonging, esteem –are fulfilled.

But in his later years, he revised the model to position the need of “self-transcendence,” as an even higher level of development from self-actualization.

Self-transcendence is achieved through thinking and acting beyond our egos and extending ourselves in unity with the universe – through acts such as altruism. In this framework, engaging in the doing good activities is a course of fulfilling our highest level of needs, as well as the final process of our psychological development.

Therefore, in turn, engaging in such activities also makes our lives in the society more whole as an individual: as we lend ourselves to a social good, we reconnect and redefine ourselves within others and the society, in which we may also discover the meaning of our lives.

Concluding Thoughts

Though our modes of life may vary, we can arrive at the thought that our concern for our community and the world relates to our natural desire to seek fulfillment and a meaningful life.

By taking the initiative, we not only extend our support for others in need but may also get closer to rediscovering ourselves within the society.  At the same time, this may bring us to a higher level of purpose which may be hard to achieve in a mundane life.

As we were engaging in such a discussion, we realized that many members of Aristotle’s Café come every week to take part in conversations that matter. Though the topics are different each week, in the end, we always seem to be exploring ourselves more deeply in relation to society – as if we are seeking something meaningful to us in a larger context.

These discussions can thus be one of the ways through which we can prepare ourselves to become more caring members of our society. If a step at a time is how we can progressively better ourselves, we should start by initiating these meaningful conversations with those around us.

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