I’m so selfish…and generous

I bought a new TV (television that is – no fetishes involved), and I was left with the choice of what to do with my old one. A few people had inquired about it, including my brother who several months ago asked me for a quote if and when I was selling it. (It’s five years old but still a great TV in perfect condition; my new one is just better!). Instead of selling it on and making some of the money for the new one back, I decided to give my old TV to my bro and his family as a gift. I knew that he wouldn’t be expecting it, which is what made it better. So I drove there (50 minute trip in both directions), for an alleged “flying visit” with my dad. After a cup of coffee I announced I had something for him in the car. I led him out and presented him with my old TV – which is bigger and better than what they currently have. He was speechless at first, then extremely grateful. I explained to him my reasons for giving it to him, as opposed to the other options I had, and he gave me a back-handed compliment. A compliment, because it was intended as such but also because it’s one of the best things someone can say about you whether they intend it kindly or not, and back-handed in the sense that it is often contrasted with generosity. He said it was “very objective” of me. In other words, I reached the decision through pure logic.

It made me smile. You see, my reasons for being generous were purely selfish. The few hundred pounds I would’ve gotten for the TV were irrelevant to me, and paled in comparison to how much this would mean to my brother and his family. Incidentally, it was his wedding anniversary the week previous which I’d forgotten! When my dad said it would make a nice present I was like “oh…yes…the anniversary…” But I was planning to give it to them anyway, occasion or not. It was “objective” of me to make the gift. It was rational, objective, “cold and dispassionate” some might say. I calculated the value of resale versus the selfish pleasure I would get from doing something nice for someone I cared about, and the new value by proxy my old TV would have in my life, through the lives of others. It was precisely because these people are selfish values in my life that made the act generous. If I was to be selfless, by all rights I should’ve given the TV to a bum on a street corner.

Additionally, we could’ve dropped the TV off when he wasn’t around but it was better to see the reaction of receiving a gift, which was another selfish motive in my decision. I wanted him to know that I was doing this for him, and that it was down to my generosity and the value he holds in my life. And I wanted to witness his reaction to affirm that virtue in myself.

So when he said “thank you so much. It’s really appreciated”, I assured him that it was “purely selfish” – and I meant it.

The pleasure I received, the emotion, was the result of my rational actions. Emotion wasn’t the impulse or motive, but the reward. The motive was acting to pursue my values rationally and objectively. Family means more than almost anything else in life, so the decision was easy to make.

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