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'Tis The Season

I went to the school cafeteria for lunch yesterday. It's a buffet place, where everyone pays the same price for all they can eat. (I might be better off if there wasn't a buffet so near my office, but that's for another entry.)

When I got to the head of the line, the cashier told me the guy in front of me had already paid for my lunch. I was incredulous. "Really?" I asked.
"He sure did" she said,"'tis the season."

I guess it is. I got a kind of good look at the guy and shouted out a thank you to him when I got in. But I don't think I could pick him out of a lineup now. I'm guessing he wasn't eager for thanks. I hope it wasn't one of my current students. (He didn't look familiar, but I have a lot of students).

There's a lesson here somewhere. The big one is that, Ayn Rand to the contrary, there is such a thing as good altruism. This guys act of kindness was uncoerced, done with his own money, was not done ostentatiously, and was as much about benefiting someone else as it was about depriving himself. (He did deprive himself of some of his own money, which certainly adds to what he did, but that was the means, not the end.) THAT'S how you do altruism. And it truly is in the spirit of the season where we (well, a lot of us) remember the birth of Christ. I truly believe that the criteria I gave above all describe Christian charity in it's truest form.

I should add that I have been having a stressful semester, and this episode reminded me that good things can happen to me, and that there are good people out there. It's also encouraged me to think of ways I could provide someone else with a much-needed reason for optimism.


Wonderful story! Yay random acts of kindness for no reason at all with one's own money and resources. :)

I'm thinking that Rand, when she railed against "altruism", was railing against it in its Kantian duty form. Which is joyless and all about sacrifice.

Edited at 2009-12-18 09:20 pm (UTC)
You've got a point about Rand. She had very specific definitions of altruism and sacrifice that would still allow for some random acts of kindness.

But I'm pretty sure she wouldn't have had a bumper sticker advocating them. :)
That is true. As I've said...when people are railing against a Very Bad Idea they have a tendency to jump to the opposite extreme, which is often Another Very Bad Idea.

Which is a shame, because voluntary charity, especially from the rich and businesses, would be the safety net for people in a totally free society. Rand only portrayed charity workers negatively in her novels (although some of them probably deserve it), so, as I read in an article, you don't get a charity called Objectivist Medcare for people who can't afford health insurance. Rand probably should have put more emphasis on benevolence than she did.

RANDom acts of kindness, anyone? :)

Oh, by the way, this post of yours encouraged me to go ahead and make another Kiva loan, when I was doubting if I should.

(Wonders if a bunch of Objectivist architecture fans can be persuaded to fund a voluntary housing project for the poor called the Roark Project. With no alterations to the architect's design so he doesn't blow it up. :D)

Edited at 2009-12-18 09:49 pm (UTC)