“Old Man” talking to “Young Man” regarding the so-called selfless generosity of giving 25 cents to a needy woman from “What Is Man and Other Essays”:
Very well. Now let us add up the details and see how much he got for his twenty-five cents. Let us try to find out the REAL why of his making the investment. In the first place HE couldn`t bear the pain which the old suffering face gave him. So he was thinking of HIS pain–this good man. He must buy a salve for it. If he did not succor the old woman HIS conscience would torture him all the way home. Thinking of HIS pain again. He must buy relief for that. If he didn`t relieve the old woman HE would not get any sleep. He must buy some sleep–still thinking of HIMSELF, you see. Thus, to sum up, he bought himself free of a sharp pain in his heart, he bought himself free of the tortures of a waiting conscience, he bought a whole night`s sleep–all for twenty-five cents! It should make Wall Street ashamed of itself. On his way home his heart was joyful, and it sang–profit on top of profit! The impulse which moved the man to succor the old woman was–FIRST–to CONTENT HIS OWN SPIRIT; secondly to relieve HER sufferings. Is it your opinion that men`s acts proceed from one central and unchanging and inalterable impulse, or from a variety of impulses?
Yes. This is the law, keep it in your mind. FROM HIS CRADLE TO HIS GRAVE A MAN NEVER DOES A SINGLE THING WHICH HAS ANY FIRST AND FOREMOST OBJECT BUT ONE–TO SECURE PEACE OF MIND, SPIRITUAL COMFORT, FOR HIMSELF.
– Mark Twain in the guise of “Old Man”
Sadly I think it’s true. Even if the story of Jesus is real, Jesus gave his life for a “cause” – that is to receive a “prize” (the comfort of knowing he had saved souls).
There really is no such thing as “selfless generosity”. But once you understand that and embrace it, it doesn’t really tarnish acts of kindness. There is beauty in finding acts that are both self-fulfilling and aid others. The key is to try to find the balance the aids the later more than the former.