A Loaded Question
Photo by Dorothy Lee
I accompanied Marie to her usual, bordering on obsessive, after-school habit. The girl ran like clockwork. She turned to the corner where a beggar had taken his spot for a few months and dropped her spare change. The next day, she recounted to me how she had to borrow money from a stranger for her jeepney fare. By the end of her tale, I figured she’d give the angels a run for their , but somehow, Marie had forgotten to spare herself some money.
That had me thinking then — can people perform selfless acts?
Of course they can, and much to my displeasure, I see selfless acts every 5:00 p.m. Selflessness and selfishness are not the opposites of the same coin; they are two ends of a spectrum. Although a selfless act can stem from a selfish motivation, the former can still be considered selfless.
I’ve always wondered where Marie’s motivations for her act towards the beggar stemmed. Did she do it to feel good about herself? Maybe she did it to quiet the itch in her conscience so she could concentrate on more important things. Perhaps she did it because she pitied the old man. If I weren’t such a cynic, I’d believe she did it out of the goodness of her heart since she knew the old man needed it more than she did. Or maybe she did it for more than one reason alone.
Whether a person can perform completely selfless acts, however, is another story — keyword completely. Therefore, to be considered completely selfless, the motivation to do an act should not have an iota of selfish desire in it.
The day after her slight debacle in the jeep, I watched her pour, without hesitation, her change into the man’s cup. Without giving it much thought, I rifled inside my bag for some spare change, but Marie turned around and caught me in the act of giving three measly pesos. She flashed me a toothy, conspiratorial smile, like we were cut from the same cloth. For a second I was embarrassed, but I lumbered along nonchalantly like nothing had happened. I’d forgotten how, previously, I had scoffed at her charity, “You do know they’re only going to use that for drugs, right?”
Are we or are we not capable of performing completely selfless acts? It was a simple yes or no answer. But, human beings have always been peculiar creatures; we spend our lives asking complex questions but expect simple answers.
The verdict? I’d like to believe that despite our motives, our debatable inherence of good or bad, and personal misgivings to altruism, human beings are to be admired for performing these selfless acts in the first place. For fighting the urge to walk away. For giving in to the nagging in our head to give in and donate. The answer to the question of whether or not we are capable of completely selfless acts may never be found with our limited time as mortals, but perhaps our endeavors to answer that question have given us more insight than the answer itself will ever be able to give us.