Emma Roulette

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Why be a good person?

If everyone in the world were altruistic, the net amount of suffering would be lower. But If I am selfish, my individual suffering is much lower than others'. What then, does one do?

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    May 24 2012: Emma,
    Your argument only works in the short term.

    My former boss was out in a 20' runabout (boat) with his friend. He saw all these yachts and said to his friend, wouldn't you want want of those? His friend says, what are you kidding? He says what do you mean, am I kidding? The friend says, look at the pilots of the boats and tell me what you see. He said he looked at several before he understood what his friend was trying to tell him. They were just as somber as could be. For the rest of the day, they had a grand old time cruising around. And at the end of the day, they loaded up their boat on the trailer and went home. He said I never envied a rich man again after that day.

    We think that selfish people don't suffer. But they have to live with themselves when the day is done. A person who isn't selfish has the people they helped on their minds. They see their joy. They may not have much to show for it, but they are content with who they are at days end. You can't put a price tag on that.

    I've known selfish people. They hide their misery well. They have few true friends. They rely on themselves because that is all they have to rely on. I don't envy them and I don't want what they have, because I know what it has cost them.
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    May 21 2012: Why be a good person?
    Because it's a lot more enjoyable for ourselves and everyone we interact with!

    Edit 16 hours later:
    I see there is a discussion evolving regarding what it means to be a good person, and I agree that there are all kinds of philosophical perceptions and theories. I am a simple person, so with that in mind, I offer my idea of what being a good person means to me:>)

    by: Ralph Waldo Emerson

    To laugh often and much;
    To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
    To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
    To appreciate beauty,
    To find the best in others,
    To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
    A garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
    To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
    This is to have succeeded.


    You cannot change the world,
    But you can present the world with one improved person -Yourself.
    You can go to work on yourself to make yourself
    Into the kind of person you admire and respect.
    You can become a role model and set a standard for others.
    You can control and discipline yourself to resist acting
    Or speaking in a negative way
    Toward anyone for any reason.
    You can insist upon always doing things the loving way,
    Rather than the hurtful way.
    By doing these things each day,
    You can continue on your journey
    Toward becoming an exceptional human being.
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    May 21 2012: Why does being selfish lower your suffering more than others?

    It's how you look at the world and your place in it. I mean, even acts of kindness can be viewed as selfish.

    E.g. President Lincoln walked miles to return a penny to a customer. When asked why, he said he wanted to avoid feeling bad if he didn't.

    I believe we have a responsibility to take care of self first. Then family. Then society at large. If you take care of everyone else but yourself you will need to be taken care of, becoming a net negative vs. net positive.
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    May 24 2012: "Why be a good person..?" Because its good! You're the one person to answer that question... i think its essential to answer the question, "what is good? or who is a good person? and, why do we have the category good in the first place?" Being "good" makes life possible. i think "goodness" is at the essential core of being human. Without "goodness," we have "Adolf Hitler, Genghis Khan, Mussolini..." the list is endless.

    Its being good as compared to being what? "bad?" whats the use in that?? being good has more to it than being bad. its giving life as opposed to killing it, healing as opposed to hurting or bruising/injuring, feeding as opposed to depriving... ad infinitum.

    Smile, dance, sing... its all good!
  • May 22 2012: You equate lower suffering with selfishness - why? Do you believe life is a zero sum game? What if you could help someone else and it had no effect on how much you suffer? To throw a hypothetical out there, are you absolutely certain you would have a worse time helping at say a soup kitchen versus say going to the movies with your friends? Maybe it would turn out you find something you enjoy that you weren't even aware of.
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    May 21 2012: The people who come into your universe will be a reflection of you good or bad. The next time someone comes into your universe that you really don't like ask yourself what do I do that is similar to what irritates me.

    Lets say you don't like to use your turn signal and one day you get irritated with someone because they don't use their turn signal. Does that make sense? In other words you reap what you sew, what goes around comes around. If you enjoy having a bar fight with the world be as mean as possible...

    FWIW there is a movie called Groundhog Day that perfectly illustrates this point. Take note of how at the beginning of the movie the main character in the movie is not a good person and how he is not happy but doesn't realize it, then take note of the changes at the end of the movie. In other word being a good person will make YOU happier.
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      May 21 2012: Pat...that is SOOOOOO true!!!
      We are like mirrors reflecting back and forth ALL THE TIME.
      If we want to learn more about our "self", take in the information that is provided:>)
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      May 22 2012: Hi Pat,

      That's a great insight!

      When I was a young guy, I once got involved in a bit of a road rage battle with another motorist. I came out of it with almost murderous intent.
      Then as I began to calm down and try to anylise what had happened, I realised that both of us had consented to descend into a kind of hell. Each of us were so ego-bound to get a victory over something that did not matter in the slightest. With the result that each of us had created a deadly enemy .. and .. why would we want another of those!!???
      I came up with a statement to protect myself from going there again - it goes like this:
      "The denizens of hell have free licence to torture each other without let or hindrance"
      And balanced it off with:
      "The denizens of heaven have free licence to bless each other without let or hindrance".
      Since then I ceased believing in an afterlife, because it was obvious that it is all here and it is all by consent and that we should learn to recognise it right here and now.
      THis has also allowed me to learn to respect the anger of others. I now listen very closely to my critics and take my lumps when lumps are due - this has averted a LOT of conflict in my life.

      I thank you for this reminder - and so well put!
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    May 21 2012: a hungarian poet wrote once, and i try to translate, which i have little chance to succeed, but here we go:

    why be a good person? they put me down anyway
    why not to be a good person? they put me down anyway
  • May 31 2012: Dearest Emma, First of all, it is not true that 'selfishness' reduces your own individual suffering. It may preserve your gains, but the totality of one's index of happiness and fulfillment does not come alone by what we have gained and retained. Love - the process of giving of oneself for the benefit of others - is a gift we give ourselves by directing empathy and care to others. So, whether you are motivated by altruism or selfishness, loving others is the best guarantee for assuring your own contentment and fulfillment. So there you have it. Your best guarantee for assuring your own happiness, and reducing the suffering in the World is simply to Love.

    If that appears insufficient, perhaps you should actually heed your name; Emma - which means 'God with us'. One of the most profound covenants in religious history is to 'love God and others'. The best means for achieving this is to simply accept the spirit of God - which is both the essence of Goodness and Love, within us. This is what some people refer to as 'Grace.' Once God (Goodness and Love) is actually within us, it becomes quite natural to be good and loving to others. So, the answer to your question of what to do? Simply affirm your name Emma; Let God be with you. Amen.
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    May 29 2012: In part we have evolved to have both empathy and selfishness.

    Accepting our nature then you might examine the consequences even starting from a selfish perspective.

    If you are a completely selfish individual, you still need to be aware of the adverse consequences.
    These range from potential ostracism, violent reaction, legal and social punishment.....to internal dissonance. Most of us have some sense of fairness and empathy and when we go against this there is some negative internal feeling.

    Still it comes down to perceived and unconscious rewards and penalties.

    There are also rewards for being non selfish. Love and respect others and you might get more love, respect and cooperation in achieving you r objectives. Also there are internal rewards to being good. You feel better internally. We seem to have evolved to get some emotional rewards from being less selfish.

    From a societal perspective, you can be a bad egg up to a point and perhaps get ahead. However, to demand fairness without being fair your self you need to be in a position of power. I note as a species we are moving away from monarchies and religious authorities having power over us without being subject to the same laws.

    We are moving from subjects to be citizens with rights and responsibilities.

    I note some are motivated to live a certain what due to their religious beliefs, some involving fear of eternal damnation i.e they believe we are the subjects of some godlike entity often based on primitive pre scientific belief systems. Unfortunately the religious dogmas often reflect the good and the bad in the societies that created them.
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    May 29 2012: you shouldn't be selfish
    you should to be good person
    cause if you will be a selfish you will be alone
    Despite this way it's most good but not always good
    but my advice for you : you should take care about Who care about you
    you should to be selfish with who rude person
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    May 26 2012: Well Emma, its how we perceive the world , if we see them as selfish human beings , then they are selfish otherwise they are not. So once we are good , we automatically see everybody as being good people or we automatically connect with the good people .

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    May 22 2012: Our freedom depends to whom we rely http://www.ted.com/conversations/11078/do_we_have_choices_in_life.html?c=453697, and eligibility standards for us is never beyond our affirmation to whom we rely.

    So for those who believe that God as the supreme command that should be obeyed by us, or the community, or a mixture of both, and others like it, that should be obeyed by us, then we will also assume supreme command from God, from any community or who are considered as highest authority that agreed by us, as the feasibility of a good standard.

    Good thing because something is selected among the many things that become part of a good standard for us and: at least can help us to survive, and the maximum can develop ourselves approaching completeness (the extent of knowledge) at each stage of development.

    So, Why be a good person?

    - For those who believe as being that should lean on the law that has no consciousness, then the answer is, so that we can avoid the damage that can be caused by consequencies of the laws that we believe, and that at least can help us to survive, and the maximum can develop ourselves approaching completeness (the extent of knowledge) at each stage of development.

    - For those who believe as being that should lean on God, or community that has consciousness, then the answer is, so that we can avoid the damage that can be caused by consequencies of the laws from authorities that we believe, and that at least can help us to survive, and the maximum can develop ourselves approaching completeness (the extent of knowledge) at each stage of development.

    The point is: Be good, or we will be punished in any possible ways by whom we love or by whom that we consider as undeniable threat, so we can have limited freedom to survive and we can fulfill ourselves for better perfection (completion) within each stage of our development.

    Less or more ...
  • Timo X

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    May 22 2012: Your premise "if I am selfish, my individual suffering is much lower than others" is faulty. Imagine a mother cooking diner and her husband and children taking a seat at the diner table. Now imagine mother takes all the food by force and spits in her family's faces if they so much as scowl at her. Is mother happier than if she had shared the food with her loved ones? Only a psycho would say yes to that. Selfishness doesn't make you happier, it makes you less happy. Treating others as you would like to be treated yourself makes everyone better off.
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      Josh S

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      May 23 2012: That's a good example for your point. However, it is not always true. If you were better off from being generous, everyone would be genereous; noone would be selfish.
      We look at people like Maria Theresa as amazing people because they were so generous. We look at her in wonder because we are either not naturally generous, or do not really gain much from it.

      Selfishness is better for the person being selfish; not always but in general.

      This doesnt make selfishness a good thing, our moral system causes generosity to be a very positive attribute while selfishness is a negative.

      If selfishness made people worse off, then why are people selfish? answer is that they as a person are better off, regardless of whether it is a morally acceptable viewpoint, it is positive for them
      • Timo X

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        May 23 2012: If your definition of altruistic is Mother Theresa and your definition of selfish is, well, everyone else, then sure, you're completely right: everyone except Mother Theresa is selfish.

        I, on the other hand, think that even holding the door open for someone is an act non-selfish act, however small. And I see people loving their families, sharing food with friends, holding doors open for complete strangers, etc. all the time. They do that because it feels good, i.e. it makes them better off. Social behavior doesn't arise from following an elaborate system of ethical rules. In fact, the real mechanism is probably the other way around: what makes everyone better off has been embedded in our morals.

        Obviously, I am not denying that selfish behavior exists or that it is sometimes useful. I don't think we are all Mother Theresa, nor do I think we should be. I am just pointing out that social (or non-selfish) behavior also exists and is much more pervasive.
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    May 22 2012: i am not a good person..
    please dont ask me ..why?...
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    May 22 2012: Define good.

    The whole field of philosophy tries to define good so you're gonna have to narrow it down a little.

    Some examples include life, selfishness, altruism, word of God, etc.

    As you can see, some of these definitions are in direct conflict with each other so please clarify. Does 'good' to you mean lack of suffering? Or is altruism good? Can someone be altruistic without being selfish? A little help please.
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      May 22 2012: Good can be defined as survival. Above everything else All forms of life have the purpose to survive. This explains a lot about the behavior of people.

      What is the wost thing you can say to a man, that he is a pansy (although that has changed in recent years maybe now it is that he is stupid?) as his survival is based on how tough he is.

      What is the worst thing you can say to a woman? that she is not attractive as this challenges her survival, the most attractive women get the most attention and marry into wealth.

      Why do people become embarrassed? because their survival has been threatened. When a person feels pain his survival is being threatened.

      You also survive through reproduction if something threatens the survival of a child, animal or human, the parent will do anything to protect that child.

      This mechanism carries through to all aspects of live and explains how passionate the Tedsters are about the environment.

      Better survival is better good.
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        May 22 2012: Interesting but sorry, I never did buy into that whole survival thing. Because it always boils down to whose survival and who gets to decide. So if you come from the western world and value the individual, the survival game is played different than if you come from the east and value the society. Or if you come from other cultures that value family, community, etc. It only works in an individualistic society. But I do see how many, many people work from that ethical and value system.

        For example, if I take your definition of good, and answer the question from a culture that values society over the individual. And someone decides that the survival of the society depends on you flying a plane into say, some building someplace, being a good person would mean you would do it. And you would be dead. And you don't survive at all. And you had no choice except to do good (die) or be bad (survive). But the overall culture survives and you are heralded as a really good dead person. I don't think I would be a good person at all. And I would be proud to be a bad person.

        See, the concept of good and values are intricately tied together. That is why I need the clarification.

        And just FYI, 'you're not attractive' is not the worst thing you can say to a woman.
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          May 22 2012: Not true, the concept applies universally. I challenge you to show some examples of it not being true.
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        May 22 2012: OK, the worst thing you can say to a woman, or a man for that matter, undermines and devalues whatever their concept of self encompasses. So only women who see themselves as attractive would be undermined by being called unattractive. For someone who finds self fulfillment in being smart, or being organized, or being faithful, the worst thing you can say would undermine their sense of self. I really do not think it is gender specific.

        But their sense of self may or may not be tied in to the concept of survival. Survival is way lower on Maslows hierarchy than self actualization for a reason. Nobody cares about their makeup if they are truly trying to survive.
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          May 22 2012: I think you miss my point that survival is not a yes or no condition.

          As to the concept of self, the underlying dynamic to that is survival and not an exception to the rule.
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        May 22 2012: Pat,
        sorry but i don't agree with this "People who are embarrassed are threatened with their survival".
        people are embarrassed when they commit something that later makes them feel guilty for what they have done rather threaten there survival in the society.
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          May 22 2012: Hi Chetan

          I would say that guilt and embarrassment are different.

          In the both cases I would say that the person's survival is being threatened. With guilt it is likely because they have done something that others would not approve of as in a moral code.
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        May 22 2012: Of course survival is a yes or no condition. Either you do or you do not. It is not universal. Because everyone every where will at some point cease to survive. The end.

        The only difference is in who decides if you survive or not and when.
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          May 22 2012: Nope

          Bill Gates is surviving better than a bum, the guy who has 35 grandchildren is surviving better than someone with no kids, the military personnel are seeing to it that their country is surviving better and in effect they are surviving better as group than someone who whines about being a 99%, the cock roach survives better than other insects because they reproduce quickly and can live on anything.

          No there are degrees of survival, you have not shown any examples to the contrary.
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        May 23 2012: I think we may have to agree to disagree. You are not making any sense outside of the now. Of course there are degrees of survival but that has noting to do with what is good. Philosophy tries to answer the question what is good and what is evil. So if survival is good, not surviving is evil. And in the future, ultimately no one, and nothing survives. Therefore evil always wins.

        So to say being a good person is to survive, preferably surviving better than the next guy based on your own somewhat nebulous definition of better, means that ultimately we are not good because eventually we will not survive.

        So the concept of survival as the basis of good is logically incongruent.

        But I have to say, I see individualistic, self-entitled people make decisions based on this definition of good every day.
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          May 23 2012: Yes it does, more life is more good. You survive in perpetuity through your children or as a spiritual being.

          The metric on this is you now compared to you before.

          This concept is logical and workable.

          You still have not pointed out any examples that do not follow this definition of good.
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        May 23 2012: More life is more good? So now you're changing the definition of good. You went from survival to life without so much as a by-your-leave.. Two completely different definitions.

        And then, it's not your survival, but your offspring's survival that counts. Or maybe the species, or maybe just some random life form. That is how this classic argument goes. When it no longer applies to the individual, and well, we mean survival of something else.

        Anyway, I posted earlier how values are integrated into the whole good concept. Posted an example of why the survival definition of good doesn't work. Obviously that wasn't enough. So here you go:
        9 year old boy undergoing chemo/radiation for cancer decides not to continue therapy (recently in the news). Parents agree it is a good decision. Less survival is a good decision. Hmm.

        Mother just gave birth to a baby and both are dying. To keep this from degrading into a medical scenario, lets just say you have enough magic potion to save one of them but not the other. Or you could split the potion between the two of them and they would survive but they would be in a perpetual vegetative state. According to survival, you should split the dose so they both could survive. (Take note with upcoming healthcare changes)

        You are with your wife and two children. We are under attack and deadly gas has been released but you only have three gas masks. Who gets the masks? Who survives? Who dies? Who decides?

        And the classic guy throws himself on the grenade. Survival as the basis for good almost negates the concept of sacrifice. Unless of course we get into the discussion of who survives again...

        I see these types of decisions all the time. This is why survival as the basis of good does not work. I could go on and on but am running out of characters.

        It always boils down to whose survival and who decides.
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          May 23 2012: Survival and life are at the least synonymous and any difference is trivial for this discussion.

          I don't see individuals as separate from certainly there family or their group or specious they are part of you.

          You show some odd examples but the correct answer is the greatest good for the greatest number as is the case with the guy who throws himself on the grenade like Leslie Sabo who was awarded the Medal of Honor recently for just that act. This creates greater survival for his fellows.

          This concept requires a bigger perspective.
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        May 23 2012: No survival and life are not exactly synonymous because things can survive but things are not living. (Eg. establishing historical preservation as good).

        If you don't see the individual as the agent that is good, you are talking about a collective sense of self (family, group, species). Defining the parameters of the self is part of the greater discussion. So you are saying that is it the survival of the collective that is good. Based on your definition of your individual collective and your definition of good. Well you can see where that decision is going to lead. What if it is you that has to die so the collective can survive? Is your non-survival then good? What if you don't want to die? Can the collective force you to die so they can survive? After all, it is survival of the collective that is good. Do you then just change your collective? I mean it just gets circular from there.

        So are you talking survival of the individual, survival of your collective sense of self, or survival of society (greater good)? They are frequently at odds with each other. Survival is not adequate for establishing good.
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          May 23 2012: I'm glad to see your are coming around to my way of thinking (8^(l)

          We are not talking about things we are talking about the survival of life.

          I'm saying that the individual survives though others. I would not call others a collective as collective is a pejorative term.

          Yes as with Leslie Sabor his death meant more survival for his fellow soldiers. There is nothing circular about it. You just have to take the bigger perspective. Once again the correct answer is the greatest good for the greatest number.
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        May 23 2012: Collective is only pejorative if your only exposure is Star Trek. It is commonly used in philosophical and political discussion as in 'collective action.'

        One last time. I am going to take what I posted and just change a few words. Maybe it will help.

        What if it is your business that has to fail so corporate can survive? Is your business failure then good? What if you don't want your business to fail? Can corporate force you to fail so they can survive? After all, it is corporate survival that is good. Do you then just change your corporation?

        Whose survival, who decides.
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          May 23 2012: It is regarding the political that it is used as a pejorative.

          The corporate scenario illustrates my point as well. In the free market a clever person comes up with a way to transmit want ad on the internet since this is how newspapers make most of their revenue it brings them to their knees. But at the same time you can now place an ad on Craigs list for free. The market place decided that it would rather have free ads instead of better reporting in newspapers.

          Or should we outlaw cars as it takes away the buggy whip manufactures. The greatest good for the greatest number is that people move around with more convenience at the expense of buggy whip manufacturers.

          Another example the ice man used to deliver ice to all houses after world war 2 they invented refrigerators and overnight the ice men were out of work. Should we out law refrigerators because of this?
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    May 21 2012: We are not born with our altruistic machinery in place.
    It is a capacity in humans to develop empathy - this is the basis of communication and community and gives us enormous adavantage in Dawinian selection.
    By community we are able to overcome all predators and provide the food and shelter for all in the community.
    This is the basis of the word we call "good".
    However, if we turn away from the challenges of the community and treat our fellows as predators or sources of food by theft, slavery or canibalism, we damage the comunity and it looses its Dawinian advantage. With the advantage lost, the predators and hunger begin to marginalise us.
    This is the basis of our word "bad".

    In a healtthy community, the child grows to acquire communication and empathy that leads to an altruistic balance. There remains a necessary bias towards self for the default purpose of prompting expression of need - If the community does not hear that signal, the individual will die. It all works nicely so long as the community remains healthy and undivided by destructive involution.

    But there is a problem in our Darwinnian selection that remains unresolved. Our genetic defiinition has not changed since the "critical mass" of community size gave us the necessary advantages. That community size is thought to be around 200 individuals. I suspect that we have only brain capacity to fully empathise with 200 others. After the "tribe" grows beyond 200, we then loose the capacity to regard them all as community and the excess starts being treated as predators or farm animals. The resulting tribal competition blurs the distinction and makes it much more difficulat for the growing child to achieve the altruistic target provided by our genes.

    Why be good? because it is what you were made to be - it is our species advantage.
    Why not be bad? Because it ultimately leads to extinction.
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    May 21 2012: I think your primary focus should be on looking out for yourself because if you truly want to be altruistic in a world that revolves around a monetary system, you'd need to personally be well-situated. Now do I believe that people need money to be altruistic? of course not but things are starting to get to the point of if you want to selflessly help others, you sort of do so at the risk of your own well-being if you not in a position to do so. (I know this mainly from personal experience).

    secondly, the term good is a real relative term. This is something that Nietzsche pointed out in his book, "Genealogy of Morals", when he mentioned the noble class called themselves good and the lower class bad, while bad for the lower class meant good and anything outside of that is evil.

    but allow me to ask you this: where exactly is your basis for being a good person or where are you deriving your term good from because if you ask me, there is no one way of being a good person and I don't think the term is as universal as people make it out to be.

    the answer to your question I would say is live the life you want to live. Also how about finding some sort of middle grand instead of choosing to either be selfish or be altruistic...don't be too selfish to the point where others are affected by your own intentions but don't be too altruistic to the point where you can't help yourself.
  • May 21 2012: If you can go to sleep each night and say that some one some where's life was better today because you have lived then it is all worth while. If you are self centered and mean you will get more of what you sow and you will end up isolated and alone. There are many days when being the good person will mean you will appear to "lose". But, if everyone in a given society decidees that nice guys finish last then everyone is imporverished both financially and morally. Just look at the US these days.
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    Josh S

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    May 21 2012: I think being a good person could be considered ultimately a selfish motive. If you are a good person you gain inherent benefits.
    If you give money to a beggar- you receive a good feeling like you actually did something meaningful that day, you feel good
    If you act kind/nice- you are well liked by your peers, you also feel good about it
    If you 'do the right thing' - you feel good about yourself, others may take notice and think better of you.

    Of course there are many other reasons, ie. religion, but i think when it comes down to it being a good person is ultimately a selfish act. However, being selfish isnt necessarily bad even though it has a very negative connotation. I think if you look at anything good you have done in the past, you have recieved atleast some benefit, either tangible or not.
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    May 21 2012: Why be a good person? Because love has great rewards. That is why there have been more songs about love, than any other theme in the world.
    We love ourselves; even when we dont like ourselves. We may be plagued by personal battles and disgraceful failings, we may marvel at our weakness against perilous habits and wrong choices.
    But we still wish our own good.

    Being good is about caring and forgiving. It is not a state of feelings; it hardly comes easy; it should not depend on emotions. We must learn to have that state of will to be good to others as we do to ourselves.
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    May 21 2012: I could be wrong as I am no expert, but I do not think that selfish people suffer over being selfish. It is their nature. It is people like you and I who know and appreciate the difference that have emotions over being "a jerk" in some manner. To be honest I do not want everyone to be altruistic. I believe that there must be ying and yang to create balance. I just read a article that stated Tiger Woods NEVER tips for service. They said it was because he never carries cash and pays by credit card. So do I but am always offered (and accept) the opportunity to tip on my card. He knows he does not tip and has the opportunity and continues to not tip. He does not feel bad. The article named many multimillionaires who also do not tip I chose him at random.

    I was taught respect at a young age. I was encouraged to be honest in all actions and deeds. What I consider a follow-up question would be "why can someone be selfish/dishonest without remorse while others cannot."

    Summary: I do it both for me and the other person involved because we both benefit. Win ... win. My motto is "RETURN WITH HONOR" and fits many situations including this. All the best. Bob
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    May 21 2012: When you observe all the people around you who are' fighting the good fight ; they are so noble and so unassuming that they inspire me. I could never put my resources in opposition to them. How could anyone cross the line to fight against them?