The Value of Altriusm || Musings

So I remember quite clearly talking to my boss about the possibility of yours truly going to become a social service worker. She then mentioned that she found it difficult because the poor never seem to help themselves. And then I smiled and nodded.

To be honest, I have mused on this question for quite a while ever since an incident I like to call “the GP experiment”. Well, it wasn’t a true experiment but the idea was there. What happened was that at around the same time, a friend of mine and I got a large amount of online currency. How large was it? I got a sum equivalent to 300 USD worth of online currency and my friend got the same. The interesting thing was 1) our backgrounds and 2) how we spent the currency.

For 1), My friend is from the US but she is on disability. Her husband is unemployed so as you can tell, her family is not particularly well off. I am a student in Singapore from a upper-middle class family.

So what happened with me was that I was super happy. Yay! Finally capital that I can use to generate income. I started buying items that I knew I could not make a loss on and then reselling them. I estimate that I have made at least 50USD worth of online currency by that method in a few months, which is about a 15% ROR. Not too bad. I could’ve probably made more but I am a little conservative. On the other hand, my friend basically spent all her money. Of course, she got the deals when she could too, but she spent it on herself.

In other words, she sought instant gratification while I saw giving up certain items for a good amount of profit could prolong my use of the money.

So what has that got to do with our backgrounds though? I say this with the greatest sympathy, but I suspect that much of the difference in the way we handled the money is because of our backgrounds. I don’t blame her- if you had only $5 left a month, I suspect most of us wouldn’t even bother saving it, let alone invest it. My parents have long proclaimed the virtues of investment, so much so that I’ve even started to do it in an online game, where I can play with virtual currencies and losing doesn’t hurt as much. But more than that, I know the market so well I am unlikely, if ever, to turn a loss. Perhaps break even, yes. But it will be most unlikely that I’ll turn a loss.

So what does this have to do with -anything-?

Well, I guess I’m just an idealist in the end. I’m hoping that somehow I can become the change I want to see in this world. That as a social worker (or whatever I decide to become in the future), I can somehow equip people with the skills they need to effect change in their lives. I don’t think its easy though, given that I am privileged in ways that most people will never be. But hey, somehow has to do it somehow.

In other words, yes, the poor tend not to help themselves. But instead of making seem like the plague for not helping themselves, perhaps it is a lack of hope that causes them to be this way. And that is perfectly valid and takes time to change. And hope is a currency that perhaps is mainly the domain of people who have had everything in life.


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