An Algorithm of Altruism

I once listened to a story on NPR about a man who tried to give his life away. He was a mathematician who discovered an algorithm which proved sharing and charity were an integral part of human existence. It somehow served the individual to put others ahead of oneself. In the deeper mentality of coexistence and community, with the idea of casting ourselves genetically into the future through procreation, we absolutely have to work together and share.

He took this to mean that there could be no true altruism. No act of charity, or of sharing, or even gift giving, could be truly selfless. It broke his heart! He dedicated his life to an attempt to prove his own algorithm wrong. He became destitute and homeless in an effort to give everything he had away to the poor. He searched for the truly selfless act…He lived on nothing, he volunteered all of his time, until he finally committed suicide. He gave his very life.

Intense, right? But the notion of altruism was something that he really believed in. Belief is something so much deeper than proselytizing or talking, discussing, arguing about what we think is right or wrong, real or unreal. Belief is something deeper, something that we live. Something that we demonstrate. Something we’ve tested and proven to ourselves. That we lean on when we have no other answer… It’s our truth.

I believe that we can make a better reality. I hope that I’m not proselytizing, because I’d rather show people my life. And today I did a little social experiment. I have these two friends, people I’ve known for a year or more. Danny is a volunteer at the drop in shelter where I’ve been volunteering. He cooks lunch with Miss Jane every day. Miss Jane is awesome by the way. Her crazy hats Rock. Danny is hilarious, he makes me laugh while we do the dishes and such. Now, to be honest, I took to just going in there and hanging out when I needed to get away from the farm. I like some drop-in centers in small towns, or maybe I just like this one a lot, but the people there are really friendly. And I like to hang out, have a cup of coffee with some honey, whatever. Chit-chat with people and see who needs help with what. It makes me feel useful and takes my mind of any melodramatic bullshit that I have going on in my life. Let’s be real, the principle factor of any twelve-step program will remind you that if you want to recover from something (anything) you have to help other people recover. It’s like the dude’s algorithm! Maybe it’s really that simple. If I discovered true altruism, I would die with the martyrs like the math guy. And I’m not here just to die! I want to live. So back to the story.

Danny’s brother has been volunteering lately too. And let’s just say that both of these amazingly hilariously fun people to work with are on a very, very tight budget. They volunteer for a living. Basically just like me. Living on odd jobs and random income in the haphazard, fly by the seat of your pants and all the faith you can muster kind of life. I guess I dig them and their friendship so much because we are all walking that out and sharing our stumbles and our progress along the way.

When I told Danny’s brother about this website where I got my glasses for just a $10 dollar shipping and handling fee, he was stoked! Both he and Danny had gotten new prescriptions and needed new lenses. I told them I would bring my computer the next day and we would check it out. I was stoked for them.

The day I got my glasses, it was epic. I could SEE!! I could appreciate the world so much better and all the beauty in it. So when Billy and Danny and I sat down and looked up the glasses, and quickly discovered that it was going to cost about 57 dollars for each pair because their prescriptions are so strong that it requires special lenses, we were a bit disappointed. I realized that neither of them could afford that, and that I didn’t have enough on my bank card at that moment to cover it. But… I knew I had it in cash from my honey commissions. I’d been saving for a quick road trip this spring, maybe. But, I thought, I could also get it in the bank, and then order their glasses with my bank card.

I decided right then that I would do that. They are my friends. And eyesight is important. So I’m not sure what made me post on facebook and ask other people to help. Maybe in a moment of selfishness I wanted to keep the little bit of money I had stashed away for road trips and adventures, but more so, I think, I felt CURIOUS. Would people help a stranger across the country pay for a pair of glasses??? And WHY? Why would you all do that? What makes us want to explore the option of ignoring logic and pragmatism, and just giving with no expectation of anything in return? The 6 people who donated to buy the glasses (within just a few hours of a facebook post) gave 5 or 10 dollars. One amazing friend who has been sponsoring me for a couple years gave her monthly donation. As always, perfect timing. But I must say, we are an odd bunch of givers, aren’t we? We all do it for such different reasons. Our motivations are a mystery, we probably can’t explain it. We know that it comes from somewhere deeper than the tangible, and that for a lot of us, it’s an insatiable passion. We’ll explain it different ways and even tell different stories. But I want you to know.

If you’ll do it for me and my friends, I think you’ll do it, or have done it, or are in the middle of doing it for the people in front of you. It’s wonderful really, to think about. So thank you. Now, the way it worked out, when I took my computer home and sat down and looked at the prescriptions, I realized that Billy needs bifocals. Ouch! The lenses suddenly got a lot more expensive. The total cost for both glasses was over $200. But funny enough, that was perfect! I took my commission money and matched it to the donations, then ordered the glasses that night! So they will be arriving in the mail by Friday or Monday at the latest. And the guys are going to be so excited! Those glasses were beyond reach just a few days ago… But not anymore. It’s wonderful to realize that we can all tackle each other’s problems one at a time.

I can’t exactly explain why I wanted to buy these glasses so badly, even to the point of sacrifice… Logically or pragmatically, it doesn’t make sense. And I’m sure that this insatiable charity habit is the reason behind my perpetual financial “poverty”…. it’s the reason why my bank account almost never has more than $50 at a time and why my wallet hasn’t seen more than $200 in months… because every time I get it, the universe shows up and says “hey, you could help this guy if you want to.” And right about then, I usually realize that I really do want to! And that’s not just me, so don’t lavish a bunch of compliments in my direction as though that mentality makes me a saint. Because if you think about it, when somebody asks you for help, you usually want to help them too! You Do! Believe That!

So what is this notion of poverty anyway? Silliness, really. I’m super rich. I sleep really well. I laugh often, I eat good food. And I usually have enough to help out my friends when they need it. Maybe the gifts I give are my own desperate search for altruism, for a truly selfless act, but I don’t think so. I’m more apt to think that humanity has just been looking at our calculators upside down or something, and that the truth is really what the man’s algorithm confirmed. More for you, is more for me too. And that together we can do anything! So thank you to all of those people who unexplainably, inextricably, for whatever reason, took money out of their own wallets to get Danny and Billy some glasses. And all the other times that I’ve come a knocking, hoping that there are other people out there with insatiable charity habits, or maybe even people specifically wanting to help folks who hang out at homeless shelters or living on the streets, but don’t have any friends in that situation. Well, thank you for working with me; I’m happy and honored to be a conduit for your gifts. There is no pride or shame in giving or receiving “charity” as we call it, I believe it’s a legitimate part of our human nature, something that is written into our DNA.

If everybody gave, nobody would go without. Thanks again.

Much Love and Many Blessings <3

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