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Reblogged:YOU Are the Forgotten Man of Altruism

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... and you have probably been trained to do the forgetting yourself.

Workplace advice columnist Alison Green tackles the following problem: "Our cleaner pressures me to stay late with her because she fears our workplace is haunted."
Image by Lan Gao, via Unsplash, license.
This is the twenty-first century, but I can see checking just to be sure.

Two things stand out in the title that both belong in the dustbin of history. The first, which most people will spot, would be superstition. Most people know There's no such thing as ghosts and most of the rest will feel a proper reluctance to bring it up at work for fear of embarrassment. Indeed, even the person bringing the subject up feels embarrassment in doing so.

The second problem is altruism, the ethical belief that we are our brothers' keepers. In this context, we have someone who has clearly been brought up to regard the perceived needs of others as representing a moral claim on her life regardless of their actual merit or how fulfilling those needs will affect her.

How do I know this? She is being presented with a crazy demand with an even more ridiculous stated basis -- and yet feels like she has to provide a solid counterargument so she can go about her own life. The cleaner needs her job, and that fact disarms her, even though she has needs of her own, be they time to study, to unwind, or to sleep.

While we don't exactly have Ayn Rand giving an answer here, there are several things I appreciate about Green's answer, which immediately distinguishes a reasonable request for a non-sacrificial level of help from the requests in question, and implicitly assumes the validity of each adult in this transaction pursuing her own interest. This includes the cleaner needing to find a way to work around her own fears that does not involve making unreasonable demands of others.

For the letter-writer, the advice is the kind of coaching many people in our culture need to develop a backbone when faced with such requests. While I doubt Green would put it this way, I would say that her advice boils down to remembering that you have needs of your own, that they count, and that you are right to treat them as valid reasons not to submit to pressure -- rather than the guilty excuses you have probably been raised to think they are.

-- CAV

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