A man risks his life to save a stranger,
A woman assists in spite of the danger,
Another gives vastly to those in need,
Or goes into the ghetto the poor to feed.
A name they have for this happy deed,
They call it altruism, and on it feed
Hopes and dreams of the human race,
Thoughts of nobility and random grace.
But before we lay the matter to rest,
We need to examine, put it to test.
When call to altruism is what we heed,
Does it primarily satisfy inner need?
Hypothesis: altruism is trade, wholly,
Of values between the parties solely.
An act of giving and expecting no gain,
Beneath the surface is not quite sane,
No legal contract where all must gain
Nevertheless, all parties will remain
Gainers when the trade is through,
And all do what they separately do.
Of each case we ask, is altruism real?
What will the giver get with the deal?
Many is the veiled prize awarded,
And not necessarily bad or sordid.
Recipient gains life or money or food,
While the giver--this is not to be rude--
Satisfies basic gut instinct or fears,
To rise in esteem among his peers.
Or wealth, ill gotten, to assuage a guilt
Over accumulated fortune badly built.
Atone for inheritance his family gave,
Or simply to enjoy the public rave.
What of his risk, with nothing to gain,
Where the hero suffers severe pain?
It’s the impulse of commitment made,
That sets the deal and issues the grade,
For even if there’s no suspicion lent,
The hero may have a genetic bent
To add to society a trait that appeals,
And satisfy his want to meet ideals.
So a transaction is definitely made,
Both gain something from the trade.
May seem callous at a higher level,
But it’s small details that hide the devil.
Of folks: there’re six billion or more.
Agendas: an equal number to explore.
And each agenda will have its way,
Simply won’t function without its pay.
When each case is marked and weighed
Between the parties debt’s been paid,
Call it altruism to slake a social thirst,
But know it’s a trade foremost and first.
R. Leland Waldrip