Altruism is the belief in or practice of selfless concern for the well-being of others. The countless occurrences of altruistic behavior — such as firefighters risking their lives to save others from a burning home, or political protestors risking jail time to further their cause — counters the commonly held belief that selfishness is our nature.

“Living things are designed to do things that enhance the chances of their genes or copies of their genes surviving and replicating,” Matt Ridley writes in his book, The Origins of Virtue. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophyelaborates on how altruism may seem to be at odds to the design that Ridley describes:

“Natural selection leads us to expect animals to behave in ways that increase their own chances of survival and reproduction, not those of others. But by behaving altruistically an animal reduces its own fitness, so should be at a selective disadvantage vis-à-vis one which behaves selfishly.”

While it may seem that altruism comes at a cost and has little to no tangible benefit from a biological perspective, when we delve further into what drives us to fight for a cause, we may find that altruism and self-preservation are not always at odds. It turns out that being altruistic may be a better strategy to pass on one’s genes than being selfish.

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