Selfishness and Altruism

Chinju-! (Brute) Ryo Shouting to puccci!? on Harajuku JIngubashi
at ichic

The terms selfishness and altruism are simple opposites which often occur together in the English language but if we examine the concepts behind the words, we see that the reality of what these words mean is complex.


Being altruistic means that you like to help other people. For most people altruism is a natural human feeling which comes from the heart.

Happiness, Compassion and Love or Breakage, Destruction and Fear

We are naturally happy, compassionate and loving human beings if we have not been broken or destroyed by suffering, pain and fear. Helping other people is a natural thing. Human communities have survived for hundreds of thousands of years by working together.

Altruism and Co-operation are Natural

Altruism is natural. Being altruistic is natural.

Word Family

“Altruistic” is an adjective. “Altruism” is a noun. Now re-read the above text and note that there are two forms of the word from the same family. Note how the noun “altruism” is used as the subject of a sentence:

Altruism is a natural human feeling.
Altruism is natural.

Note also how the adjective “altruistic” is used with a “be” verb”.

Being altruistic means that you like to help others.
Being altruistic is natural.

Another Type of Noun – a noun phrase

A verb plus “ing” forms a noun:
be PLUS ing equals “being”.

being altruistic
being co-operative

The Problem of Altruism

The problem of altruism is a problem of balance. It is natural to want to help others but it is also natural to want to help yourself.

A First Conditional Statement

If you help other people all the time and neglect to help yourself, your life will be out of balance.

A Statement of Importance

It is important to have balance. We cannot easily be happy if we do not have balance in our lives.

The Problem of Selfishness

Selfishness and Altruism are similar problems.

Another First Conditional Statement

If we are selfish, we will neglect others.

A General Statement

It is natural to be selfish. It is natural to look after yourself and take care of your own needs.

An Example of Zero Conditional

When there is an emergency situation on an aeroplane the pilot tells the passengers to put on their own oxygen mask first before they secure the oxygen mask of their children.

So Much That

Sometimes parents love their children so much that they lose sight of reality.

Zero Conditional

If there is an emergency on the plane you have to put on your own oxygen mask first and then secure your child’s oxygen mask.

The Introduction of Will

That way the child will be ok and you will be ok to take care of your child.

Zero Conditional with modal “might”

If you put on the child’s mask first, you might pass out and find yourself unable to take care of the child.

Suffering and the Importance of Finding a Balance

Then the child will suffer and you will suffer. You will both suffer. So it is important to find a balance between selfishness and selflessness.

Being selfish means thinking of yourself all the time. Being selfless means thinking of others’ needs all the times. Both courses of action are unreasonable. Both Are unrealistic. Realistically speaking you should find a balance between selfishness and selflessness.

Selfishness – Word Family

We have looked at the word “selfishness” in the context of an explanation. Now let us look at it in the context of a list. Let us examine the word family and look more more closely at the grammar:

Self – noun
selfish – adjective
Selfless- adjective
Selfishness – noun
Selflessness – noun

Note the noun-forming suffix: “ness”.


Pronouns with Self


Now look at these words in context:

I tell myself that I will be ok
Help yourself to the food and drink in the refrigerator.
He came into my bedroom and helped himself to my jewelry
She is in the bathroom making herself beautiful.

Life is Beautiful

Grammar – Reflexive Verbs

A Stupid Joke

A Chinese student in a market spoke to a stall-holder. He said:

Are you sell fish?

The seller replied:

No, I am altruistic.

He should have said:

Do you sell fish?

Look at these phrases:

Are you selfish?
Are you sell fish?

The pronunciation is the same. This caused misunderstanding.

“Are you plus verb” does not exist.
This pattern is not correct.
It should be “Do you Plus verb”.

Links to More Lessons

Understanding Grammar

Art and Love

The Work Page

The Time Page

The Grammar Page

Vocabulary is the Key
Birth and Death – Vocabulary – Word Families


Do you try to help other people?
Does it make you happy to help other people?

Vocabulary – Story – Lives of a Man

Have you read the story “Lives of a Man”? It will help you to develop your vocabulary.
Vocabulary Development through Words in Context – Story – Lives of a Man

Life and Lives

“Life” is a singular noun. “Lives” is a plural noun.

life – lives
my life – our lives

Links to More Lessons

Vocabulary is the Key

Understanding Grammar

The Grammar of Happiness

Generalisations are not Universally True

The Metaphor Page

Much of Meaning is in Context

Selfishness and Altruism

Noun Lessons

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